Spanns help dedicate ‘Heroes Highway’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2002

BNI Newswire

The Fourth of July was Mike Spann’s favorite holiday, remembered his widow, Shannon Spann. It was July 2, centuries ago, that this nation’s founding fathers actually passed a resolution for independence, that’s why Tuesday was so much more special.

That’s why Spann’s family was grateful the state picked Tuesday to formally designate Interstate 65 as Heroes’ Highway throughout Alabama.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

"It’s a special thing for us," she said.

The hour-long ceremony took place at the I-65 northbound rest area. The state Legislature passed the resolution giving the designation to

Interstate 65. The inspiration for the idea came from Johnny Michael "Mike" Spann, the CIA agent from Winfield, who was the first American combat casualty of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The resolution also honored all military and civilian heroes in the state.

"The family is very blessed the state has chosen Mike to represent all the heroes who have paid the sacrifice for their country," Shannon said. "The state has been very kind to the family."

John Walker Lindh, a 20-year-old American from California who joined the Taliban, is set to go on trial in September in connection with Spann’s Nov. 25 death. Federal prosecutors charge Lindh with conspiring to kill Americans. Taliban prisoners attacked and killed Spann and staged an uprising, which took several days to suppress.

The government said Spann, an Auburn University graduate, was attempting to identify al Qaeda members among prisoners and interviewed Lindh. Taliban prisoners later shot and killed Spann as part of the uprising.

The family has participated in a number of commemorations, including Tuesday’s.

"Every day is a Memorial Day for Mike," said his father, Johnny Spann, a Winfield real estate agent who appreciates what the state and others have done. "It brings back the hurt and it makes you cry again. But it’s part of the healing process."

Shannon said people ask her all the time if the family members tire of all the ceremonies, but they don’t.

"We don’t ever forget Mike. We live with Mike every day," she said. "Being constantly with people who want to commemorate his life "is actually helpful to us. The gratitude of the American people has been a great source of strength for the family."

Johnny told the small crowed gathered onlookers the family there is much to remember.

"On Sept. 11 a lot of lives changed," Johnny said. "Our life changed drastically. We just didn’t know how much."

Within a matter of weeks, his son was dead. "It’s so easy to forget," Johnny said. "Our lives are so good it’s easy to do that." He added, however, many people over the years have given their lives for their country. That sacrifice and the threat to the nation’s freedoms should not be forgotten.

"As Americans, don’t forget what they did to us," Johnny said. "Don’t forget about the people who did this to us." He said not to forget traitors to the country in the wake of Sept. 11. "They claim to be one of us. They’re not."

Spann noted his son’s last e-mail to his family on Sept. 19.

"Our way of life is at stake. We must fight for it. Support you government and military, especially when the bodies start coming home," Mike Spann wrote.

That e-mail "is the call to arm’s today," U.S. Rep. Bob Riley, R-Ala., said. "We have to remember that sacrifice."

Riley, who noted he lost a daughter to cancer on Aug. 18, told the crowd when he talks to Shannon Spann, "It’s all I can do to retain my composure."

"When I remember the amount of grief I was going through, and multiply what was going on in Washington, New York and Pennsylvania, it’s incomprehensible we could survive something that traumatic," Riley said. However, he said Americans did survive because of their devotion to their country.

Riley said the nation must rediscover its passion in order to fight terrorism.

"The debate has fundamentally changed in Washington, D.C.," Riley said. "Some question whether we had the will to fight terrorism. That debate is over."

Afterward, after a long line of speakers praised Mike Spann’s sacrifice, Johnny Spann attended to Mike’s son, Jake. Spann said a reporter had just asked him what a hero was.

He had replied it was someone willing to give their life for the family, their friends and their nation.

He said that’s why it was important to remember his son and others, such as the firemen and police officers in New York who gave their lives on Sept. 11.