MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – Mike Spann, a Marine turned CIA officer, felt a duty to go to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In one of his last phone calls home to check on his children, he told his father that he hoped they would gather information to locate the mastermind of the attacks, Osama bin Laden, his father recalled.
Instep he was assassinated days later, on November 25, 2001, during a prison uprising in the fortress where he had been questioning extremists. The 32-year-old CIA paramilitary officer from Winfield, Alabama, was the first of 2,448 US servicemen killed in combat in Afghanistan.
Spann’s father said he was disgusted by footage of the chaotic US withdrawal on Monday that showed people, desperate to escape the Taliban takeover, clinging to the side of a departing US military plane.
“It makes my stomach turn when I see it. It’s disheartening. It’s embarrassing I think. I think it’s embarrassing that we’re doing this, ”said Johnny Spann.
The elderly Spann had just dropped off his granddaughter in Birmingham when he had to stop and look at the pictures on his cell phone after hearing them described. The scenes of people rushing to their deaths from the plane reminded Americans who jumped off the World Trade Center towers, he said.
Spann said he is not opposed to the Americans leaving Afghanistan, but he does not agree with when and how it was done. With the takeover of the Taliban, his mind immediately goes to the Afghans who helped his son and other Americans.
“They are going to die. They are going to kill them. And how can anyone bear that when we know we made them promises? It is not known how many people we would have lost if those people had not helped us, ”he said.
Mike Spann always seemed destined for the military.
When I was a teenager, I had Navy flags plastered on the ceiling and walls. During family trips, you would always want to pass military battlefields and landmarks. Near his graduation from Auburn University, he announced that he would be joining the Marine Corps, a decision some questioned because he was a young husband.
“Dad, I always wanted to be a Marine. If I don’t do it now, I will never have another chance, ”her father recalls saying.
After the September 11 attacks, Mike Spann felt a duty to go to Afghanistan even though the decision would mean leaving his two daughters, young son and wife behind.
The duration of the war can be measured in Spann’s three children, only young when their father died, but now they have grown up.
In the years since his son’s death, Johnny Spann has become obsessed with knowing the details: tracking down the autopsy report, the photos, and talking to the people who worked with his son in his final days. He is also highly critical of President Joe Biden’s retirement decision.
Much of the work his son and others did has been undone, he said, but that doesn’t make his contributions meaningless.
“They helped us keep America safe, and that’s what they have been doing for 20 years. They did their job. They did what they were supposed to do. They did what they were told to do. But they did not die in vain, ”he said.
His son, he said, went looking for bin Laden: “He died before we found Osama bin Laden, but I think maybe some of the things he did helped us get to that point.”
Elder Spann warned people not to think that the threat to the United States has ended with the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“This war has not ended. We just gave up the territory we took, ”he said.