How 9/11 Changed Us: Mike Spann

On this 10th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I want to share this USA Today with you.  It’s from the same article as the three I’ve shared earlier this week.  However, this ones follows the story of Mike Spann, the first American casualty in Afghanistan.  

Mike Spann poses with his children Allison, 9, right, Emily, 3, left and Jake, 6 months, taken at their home in Manassas, Va., the day he left for Afghanistan in October 2001.

Mike Spann: First to fall in Afghanistan

A 32-year-old CIA paramilitary officer, Johnny “Mike” Spann goes to Afghanistan after 9/11 to fight the Taliban, the Islamist regime that provided al-Qaeda with a base from which to attack the U.S. He’s at one of the crucial battles of the war, then becomes its first American combat fatality — and an inspiration to his Alabama hometown.

By Rick Hampson USA TODAY

9.11.2001: More than most Americans, Mike Spann, a CIA paramilitary officer and former Marine officer, realizes life has been changed by the terror attacks. He knows the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the fight against those who sheltered him in Afghanistan will demand the skills of people like him.

9.19.2001: Spann e-mails his father, Johnny, in Winfield, Ala., his feelings about the coming war: “Support your government and military, especially when bodies start coming home. Our way of life is at stake. We must fight for it. … What everyone needs to understand is these fellows hate you. They hate you because you are an American.”

10.1.2001: Spann prepares to go to Afghanistan to fight alongside the anti-TalibanNorthern Alliance. He has decided to volunteer even though he is married (to a fellow CIA employee) and the father of three young children. He tells his father that after the attacks by al-Qaeda, which operated from Afghanistan with the consent of the Taliban regime, he owes it not just to his nation, but to his family.

10.18.2001: Shannon Spann, Mike’s wife, spends a typical night at home in Northern Virginia with the children. She helps one child with homework, reads the Bible and thinks about Mike’s safe return, writing in her journal, “I can’t wait until we’re all together.” She is caring for Mike’s two daughters from his first marriage — Alison, 9, and Emily, 4 — as well as her son with Mike, 6-month-old Jake.

11.24.2001: For weeks, Spann has been with the Northern Alliance, traveling through rugged and dangerous terrain, sometimes on horseback. With their military situation in northern Afghanistan becoming critical, hundreds of pro-Taliban fighters — most of them non-Afghans — surrender near the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

11.25.2001: Mike Spann is interrogating POWs at a makeshift jail. He tries without success to question an English-speaking prisoner whom he does not realize is a fellow American: John Walker Lindh.

Moments later, a riot breaks out. Spann is killed in the fighting, becoming the war’s first U.S. combat fatality.

12.1.2001: Winfield, a Bible Belt town of about 5,000, mourns the loss of a local hero. Spann is remembered as an all-American kid who got good grades in school, went to church and on weekends drank a little beer and raised a little hell. Once distant, “the conflict has become very personal,” writes editor Tracy Estes in the local Journal Record.

12.6.2001: Spann is remembered at a church memorial service in Winfield. His daughter Alison is accompanied by her grandfather to the altar, where he reads a letter she’s written: “Daddy, I will miss you dearly. I will miss you, but I know you’re going to a better place. Thank you for making the world a better place. Love, your dear daughter Alison.” Later, she places the letter in her father’s casket.

12.10.2001: Spann is buried in Section 34, site 2359, at Arlington National Cemetery. Wife Shannon tells mourners that after the 9/11 attacks “he didn’t separate serving his country from serving his family. When Mike took the oath to defend the Constitution … he took that oath to our family as well. He just really thought it was his duty as a father to protect his children from terrorists.”

2.13.2002: The father of accused Taliban member John Walker Lindh is rebuffed when he tries to shake hands with Mike Spann’s father, Johnny. After his son’s arraignment in Alexandria, Va., Frank Lindh approaches Spann. But Spann does not shake his hand. Spann and Mike’s mother later tell reporters the defendant is a traitor. They believe their son died as the result of a prisoners’ plot of which Lindh must have been aware. A news video has surfaced that shows Spann talking to Lindh shortly before the riot.

7.15.2002: Lindh pleads guilty to charges with maximum penalties of 20 years. The plea bargain, which stuns a packed courtroom, averts a trial on 10 counts that could have brought life in prison. Lindh, 21, admits to U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III that he illegally supported the Taliban as an infantryman. Shannon Spann says that in pleading guilty, Lindh “agreed with the government that his conduct was terrorist activity.” But Spann’s father says his son and other Americans battling terrorists “have been let down.”

10.4.2002: At Lindh’s sentencing, Johnny Spann says Lindh bears some responsibility for his son’s death: “My grandchildren would love to know their dad would be back in 20 years. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.” Ellis says he wouldn’t have approved the plea bargain if the government showed any evidence of his culpability in Spann’s death. A teary Lindh tells Ellis he had “no role” in it.

9.14.2003: A new biography of Lindh questions whether he was really unaware of plans for the prison rebellion in which Spann was killed. Mark Kukis writes in My Heart Became Attached: The Strange Journey of John Walker Lindh: “It seems impossible that (Lindh) would not have known people in the (prison) basement were armed and plotting a revolt when he sat before Spann, saying nothing that might warn Spann.”

12.18.2007: Mike Spann’s father says he opposes an attempt by Lindh’s parents to getPresident Bush to commute their son’s 20-year sentence and set him free.

5.28.2010: Alison Spann graduates from high school in Winfield, where she lives with her grandparents. People remember the words Alison wrote for her father’s memorial service, and that his death was not her last tragedy. Shortly after he was killed, her mother, Johnny’s ex-wife, died of cancer.

6.7.2010: Afghanistan passes Vietnam as America’s longest continuous war. In Winfield, people remember the war’s first U.S. fatality. Almost everyone appreciates Mike Spann’s sacrifice, but they disagree on whether the war should continue.

Spann’s father says it’s imperative to keep the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan before 9/11, out of power. Dale Weeks, one of Mike’s boyhood friends, isn’t so sure: “It’s time to start bringing people home. We’ve done about all we can do.”

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Categories: History, Politics/Current Events | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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One thought on “How 9/11 Changed Us: Mike Spann

  1. Durga

    People like Mike Spann live on longer than life itself, for their selflessness and bravery. We can never forget him.

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