This weekend is the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks that led to the deaths of 2,996 Americans.

September 11th, 2001, started as a beautiful fall day in Iowa. My medical office in Ottumwa, Iowa, was less than five minutes away from my residence. I was on my way to the office shortly before 8 am Central Time. Listening to the radio, I heard the commentators mentioning a plane flying into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

When I got to the office, the televisions in the waiting room were already on and I could see the tragedy that was unfolding. I watched as a second plane flew into the south tower. Immediately my thoughts were that this was no unfortunate accident, but it was an act of terrorism. This was the worst attack on our nation’s soil since Pearl Harbor, another day that would live in infamy.

Both towers had gaping holes, with unbelievable flames spouting from every direction. The smoke, the sirens, and the bystanders gazing up in shock were overwhelming. Then, the world watched in horror as both towers came down. Like an accordion, collapsing on themselves.

It was so difficult to see patients that day. I kept going back to the television to see the images and could not stop crying. I wasn’t angry as much as I was grieving and as a nation, we mourned together.

As I returned home, I watched the search and rescue of the rubble night after night. I was proud to find out the way that Iowans stepped up to help in the rescue efforts in New York. The lights that provided illumination for the search and rescue workers were provided by Musco Lighting, a business based in Oskaloosa, Iowa. I was proud of the individuals from Iowa who went to New York to volunteer in the rescue efforts.

When the firefighters and police held the American Flag over the rubble and President Bush appeared in casual dress and spoke, we were all moved, inspired, united, and motivated.

We were all brought together by the values embodied by that flag: the selfless acts of the heroes who took down a plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania; the first responders who rushed into burning buildings to rescue others knowing of the imminent danger; the resiliency of our nation; and the unwavering dedication to defending the freedom of speech, religion, and liberty.

I still recall flowers and flags at the site, flags in the windows of almost every building. The recollections of those who had perished, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and all of us to link together the terrorist acts over decades and how all these images would resonate with a single message: Never Forget.

It is imperative that we never forget. That we continue to vigilantly defend these liberties described in our Declaration of Independence and embodied in our Constitution. That we reflect on our common values and pass them down from generation to generation. We know now how very precious they are and how important it is to uphold them.

Rep. Miller-Meeks Official Photo

Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a 24-year Army veteran and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee currently representing Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.