Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO): What I saw at the Capitol on 9/11

The 9/11 attacks happened during my first year in Washington. I still didn’t have a place to live, so I slept on a couch in my office during my nights in the city.

I woke up early that day and took a walk around the complex. We were only a few weeks removed from August recess, but like so many others do, I remember that clear sky and the first feeling of fall like it was yesterday.

I was showering down at the member gym when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I was huddled around the TV with a few other members when the second one crashed into the South Tower.

I was back in my office I heard an explosion and felt the ground shake underneath me. I knew right away what it was.

There was so much confusion in the minutes that followed. That’s what I remember most about the day. No one knew where to go or what to do. We were getting different instructions from different people. Then I watched the Speaker being physically pulled off the House floor. It was surreal.

For a place that is usually so structured, everything was so chaotic and uncertain for a few minutes.

Those were some of the longest minutes of my life. We didn’t know if we were still under attack or where the safest place to be was. What made it even worse was the fact that cell phone lines were tied up and I couldn’t talk to my family back in Tarkio.

It’s hard to believe that was 15 years ago. It’s one of those things that in some ways feels like last week, and in others seems like a lifetime ago.

Today, we’re still at war against that same evil that attacked us on September 11. But the actual enemy is always evolving.

As American forces around the Middle East weakened the group responsible for 9/11, new threats have emerged. Threats that are just as violent and extreme as those from Al Qaeda, but less predictable, less centralized, and more elusive.

Ours is not an easy enemy to defeat. What is clear is that victory against ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism will require American strength, leadership, and ingenuity. Our way of life is still the target of this extremism. We cannot take a back seat and allow someone else to defeat it.

America rebuilt, recovered, and resolved to be stronger than we were before that day. We will never get back those we lost. But we learned that our spirit as Americans can never be taken from us. That is, and always will be, bigger than any act of evil.