Churches mourn CIA operative killed in Afghanistan
‘You know he went to school with our kids.’ ‘He was a quiet little boy.’ ‘So tragic,’ they said.
This was Johnny Micheal Spann’s home. He grew up in the Winfield church of about 260 and dreamed of joining the military and flying a plane like Tom Cruise in the film ‘Top Gun.’
On Nov. 28 the CIA revealed that Spann, known as Mike, was killed in a prison uprising in Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan. The 32-year-old was the first American casualty on Afghan soil in the war on terrorism. The news sent a wave of national media crashing down on Winfield, a town of about 4,500 near the Mississippi border, where Spann’s father, also named Johnny, and mother, Gail, still live.
Church members lined their cars bumper-to-bumper in front of the Winfield building to keep television cameras away from the service, which was attended by 400 residents. Inside, minister James F. Wyers was fielding phone calls from city officials.
Assistant minister Larry Davenport said it was a little overwhelming.
‘You think about this happening in some big city — New York City — or California, not in a town where the big event of the year is Mule Day (a yearly bazaar in Winfield),’ Davenport said. But Wyers said church members from Winfield and nearby towns ‘came out of the woodwork’ to help, supporting Spann’s parents and his relatives who were visiting Winfield for the service.
During the emotional memorial, complete with a Marine color guard and 21-gun salute, the congregation sang ‘To Canaan’s Land I’m On My Way’ and ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ Mike Spann’s favorite songs.
‘He was always attentive and wanted to know everything about God,’ said Mildred McGuire, who taught Spann in Sunday school.
Spann graduated from high school in 1987 and went to Auburn University before joining the Marines, where he spent seven years. While stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Spann and his first wife, Kathryn, attended church with their daughters Alison, now 9, and Emily, now 4, said fellow soldier and church member Allan Naugle. ‘He was then a Marine chopper pilot — the strong, silent type. But always there,’ Naugle said.
After joining the CIA, Spann and Kathryn attended the Manassas, Va., church for about three years before they divorced, said Manassas minister Barry Bryson. Spann remarried, and he and his second wife, Shannon, started attending the Fairfax, Va., Church of Christ. They had one son, Jacob, now 6 months old.
‘His first priority in his life was to make sure he was right with God,’ Bryson said of Spann. ‘Mike was a one-of-a-kind guy — almost Davidian. He was certainly devoted to God, (with) a warrior mentality. But (he was) very, very kind.’
Kathryn is still part of the Manassas congregation, Bryson said. After the government called immediate family and told them Spann was missing, his father recommended they call Bryson, too.
Together with the girls’ caregiver, Bryson told the girls and Kathryn he was missing. Grandparents and friends were there for support, Bryson said.
Spann was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia Dec. 10. At the Winfield service, Spann’s father read a letter, written by Alison, that would be buried with her father. Alison stood next to her grandfather as he read.
‘Thank you, daddy, for making the world a better place. I love you,’ Alison wrote. ‘Everybody’s so proud of you — especially me.’
Donations for Spann’s children may be sent to The Micheal Spann Memorial Trust Fund, c/o The Citizens Bank, P.O. Box 550, Winfield, AL 35594.