Summary: Paying homage to those who died to secure or physical and spiritual freedom.
Today is Memorial Day.. it is a day that originally was set aside to honor those that had fallen in battle during the War Between the States.. both union and confederate. In the early 20th century it was expanded to recognize the fallen of all the wars involving our country.
Since it occurs in the spring and coincided with the old fashioned decoration Days held by many churches, , Memorial Day was became an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as people visited the graves of their deceased relatives in church cemeteries, whether they had served in the military or not. But, the primary focus, even today remains upon those who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country. Those that gave not only their freedom but their lives so that we you and I might enjoy freedom.. and so that we might celebrate that freedom by coming together in a place of worship with fear of a dreaded knock upon the door.
This morning I want to share with you the story of two men who paid the ultimate price for that freedom.
The story of the first begins with "Mike" Spann, lingering among the tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery, studying each inscription. He did not know the men buried in those graves but he could not take his eyed from the memorial markers.
His sister standing beside was becoming impatient, “Mike, let's go," she implored. "They're all the same." "No, Tanya, they're not," Mike replied. "There are stories behind them."
Today Mike Spann lies beneath one of those tombstones and I want to tell you a little of the story behind it.
Johnny Micheal Spann was from the small town of Winfield, Alabama. Spann had a strong religious Christian upbringing and graduated in 1987 from Winfield City High School, where he played football. At 17, he earned his private pilot license and later became a certified rescue diver and parachutist. He was a young man who loved his country dearly and wanted to serve it in any way he could.
In December 1991, while attending Auburn University, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve. After graduating from Auburn with a bachelor of science in criminal justice/law enforcement in 1992, Spann attended the Marines' Officer Candidates School at Quantico, Virginia. He had originally wanted to go into aviation, but became a field artillery office In 1997, served as second-in-command for a joint exercise expedition in Latin America and Africa called "UNITAS." He served six years with the United States Marine Corps, including tours in Okinawa, Japan and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, eventually achieving the rank of Captain
Even though he had served in the Marine Corps, at the time of his death, He was not a soldier, a sailor, a marine, or an airman. In fact, many people would not consider him to have been a service man at all. Mike Spann was a member of the CIA. But, as a member of the CIA, he is counted as the first combat fatality of the war on terrorism. He was killed during the invasion of Afghanistan, November 25, 2001.
In an effort to find Osama bin Laden Mike Spann had gone with some Special Forces soldiers to the Qala-i-Jangi. prison near Mazar-i-Sharif.
There Mike discovered John Walker Lindh who would become known as the American Taliban. After interviewing Liindh, he left the prison and was walking away when a grenade went off and a riot at the prison began. Instead of taking cover, Spann turned and ran toward the prison. Another grenade was detonated, severely wounding Spann. But he got up and joined in the fight to support the other Americans who under attack. Sources say that he fought with his AK-47 until it ran out of ammunition, then drew his pistol until it, too, emptied, then resorted to fierce hand-to-hand combat before finally being overcome.
Autopsy reports that showed he had two bullet wounds to the head. That indicates a method of death consistent with an execution-style slaying as the victim was in a kneeling position.
Today there stands a monument erected by the Afghanistan Government to honor Mike Spann’s bravery and service to their country. For service to our country, he was awarded the Intelligence Star, the equivalent of the Silver Star which entitled him to burial at Arlington National Cemetery.
Those headstones are not all the same.. there are stories behind them.
George J. Tenet, the Director of the CIA spoke at the Funeral of Johnny Micheal Spann at Arlington National Cemetery on December 10, 2001. He began his remarks by saying: "Here today, in American soil, we lay to lasting rest an American hero. United in loss and in sorrow, we are united, as well, in our reverence for the timeless virtues upon which Mike Spann shaped his life—virtues for which he ultimately gave his life. Dignity. Decency. Bravery. Liberty. "