- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2001

A somber gray day, the last brown leaves stubbornly clinging to bare trees, and miles of white grave markers were the backdrop yesterday for the burial of America's first casualty in the war in Afghanistan.
CIA officer Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann was called an "American hero" as he was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. Officer Spann was killed by Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in a prison riot last month.
"From his earliest days, Mike not only knew what was right, he worked to do what was right," CIA Director George J. Tenet told relatives, colleagues and friends of the officer, who had been a captain in the Marines.
"It was in the quest for right that Mike, at his country's call, went to Afghanistan. To that place of danger and terror he sought to bring justice and freedom and to our nation he sought to bring a still greater measure of strength and security."
Shannon Spann, the officer's widow, solemnly cradled her baby son as she sat in front of the coffin draped in an American flag. The widow trembled as she attempted to speak from the heart, she said, "before I remembered it was broken."
"I want to tell you my husband is a hero," she said. "Mike is a hero, not because of the way he died, but because of the way he lived."
Retired Capt. Spann, 32, was a paramilitary officer with the CIA's Special Activities Division and was in Afghanistan six weeks when he was shot to death by prisoners rioting Nov. 25 at a Taliban prison in Mazar-e-Sharif. He was at the prison interviewing Taliban and al Qaeda fighters captured nearby in Kunduz, a former Taliban stronghold.
Raised in tiny Winfield, Ala., Mike Spann played football at Winfield City High School before graduating in 1987. He majored in criminal justice at Auburn University, joining the Marine Corps after graduation and becoming a captain of artillery. He left the Marines in June 1999, joined the CIA's Directorate of Operations and moved to Manassas Park.
The length of Capt. Spann's military service did not qualify him for burial at Arlington, but his family's request for a waiver was approved by President Bush.
Yesterday's gray chill matched the faces of the 100 or so mourners trailing the horse-drawn wagon, which halted at grave No. 2359. As his wife, and two young daughters from a former marriage, took their places, the Marine band played a dirge.
After Mr. Tenet and Mrs. Spann spoke,the seven-member honor guard fired three shots and the band played taps. Marines removed the flag draped over the casket, folded it with precision and presented it to the widow.
The CIA will hold a private service for Capt. Spann today. A memorial service was held for him in Winfield, Ala., last week.
Eight other Americans, all military personnel, have died in the military action in Afghanistan. Three Green Berets were killed by friendly fire near Kandahar. Four U.S. personnel died in accidents, including a helicopter crash, and a fifth committed suicide.
The three soldiers, who were killed when a U.S. bomb missed its target, were memorialized yesterday at Fort Campbell, Ky. They were Master Sgt. Jefferson "Donnie" Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tenn.; Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of Frazier Park, Calif.; and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, 32, of Cheshire, Mass.
The CIA has been working covertly with the U.S. military in Afghanistan, providing weapons, money and intelligence to rebel groups opposing the Taliban and interrogating captured fighters.
Capt. Spann is the 79th CIA employee to die in the line of duty, and his star will join the others on the wall of the agency headquarters' lobby in Virginia.
That is small comfort to his widow.
Yesterday she read from daily letters to her husband that went unsent and unread:
"The house is quiet and I am speaking to my favorite person," Mrs. Spann wrote in October. "I miss you so much, especially in the evening. I can't wait until we are all together. So, my dear, now I shall go to bed a lucky girl, dwell in the happiness of being yours, and pray for your safe return."
But her optimism was not to be rewarded.
"Semper fi, my love," she said yesterday as the ceremony ended.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide