Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Johnny Spann: 'If we had moved on Osama bin Laden in 1992, the War on Terror might never have taken place.'

Verne Strickland Blogmaster / November 22, 2011


Johnny Spann has spilled a lot of information and emotion as he talked with me on his cell phone from his home in Alabama. Our conversations took place in October and early November of this year. 

I am deeply grateful to this soft-spoken and genteel grandfather for sharing his innermost thoughts on the death of his son Mike in 2001 in Afghanistan -- what happened and what might have happened. How decisive action in Washington as far back as 1992 could have changed the course of American history, heading off the costly, bitter and prolonged War on Terror.

We have covered a lot of ground, but there is more to say. Johnny picks up the conversation:


I remember Mike everyday and we commemorate his death everyday, and more importantly, his life. His two daughters of course live here. I don’t want them to ever forget their father, and I know they won’t. 

Emily was only four years old when Mike died. Alison was old enough that she remembers her dad really well. We’re not going to have any kind of special memorial anywhere. The tenth year doesn’t mean anything more to me than the first year. 

Will you bottom line this for me? What I’m seeing is your feeling that if there had been any courage in Washington, and if we had gone after bin Laden in 1992 and stood up for America, your son might be alive today.

Yes, not only Mike but many others. But I don’t want to come off as radical. In ten years of thinking about this, I'm reminded of  the old saying – fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. History keeps repeating itself, and what are we letting ourselves in for now? 

We’re pulling out of Iraq and we may not have a choice, but from where I’m sitting it seems like there should be more choices. I’m afraid we’re going to be doing the same thing in Afghanistan. And we’re going to leave and it’s going to be just like it was when the Soviets pulled out of there.We’re so vulnerable to the actions of all these radicals and the Taliban. It will just be done again. 

I am really proud of the fact that we were finally able to find bin Laden, but in my own mind I can’t see Obama getting all the credit for that. In the first interview, I was impressed that when the time and opportunity were right to take out bin Laden, the president didn’t say no. 

But as far as leading up to that point, I think all the things the Bush administration had put into effect through the years were very important in finally cornering and killing bin Laden. In any case, I’m still proud we got him, but the thing is, if we had gotten him in 1992 we could probably have abolished Al-Queda very easily..

 I have another question – are you not a Christian?
Yes I am. 

I know you are. I can hear it in your comments and thoughts. Has that faith sustained you through this long, terrible ordeal?

Well I think so. I’m not going to try to say that it’s just my faith in God. But I want to tell you one more quick story, and I don’t want to bore you.

Believe me that won’t happen.

Right after Mike died, people come up to you and say I’m really sorry, you know, you’ve just got realize it’s God’s will, it’s part of God’s plan, and you’ve just got to accept it. And that was just like taking a knife and sticking it right in my heart.
There was one particular lady -- she came by she said just to say hi. She sat down in my office and was talking about her faith in God, and her family’s faith in God, and that she was in God’s favor and her family was in God’s favor, and that God protected her and her family.  

I let her go on, and she talked about how she prayed every day and she let God take care of them and He did, and all. But I said, are you telling me that because I wasn’t a good enough person or Mike wasn’t a good enough Christian, that I didn’t pray hard enough or Mike didn’t pray hard enough? Then you are saying Mike was such a bad person that God just let him die?
She said well, I’m just telling you that God can move mountains if he wants to. 
I said yeah, okay, I believe that. And then she went through this thing about being in God’s favor, and I said, well I’ll tell you what – I think sin came into the world back in the Garden of Eden. Up until that time there wasn’t going to be any crime and there wasn’t going to be any death, and there wasn’t going to be anything but happiness. But we were given a choice, and man sinned. And when he sinned, a whole different set of rules came into play. 

And I said I don’t believe that God made those people kill Mike. I don’t believe that no matter how much we could have prayed, that Mike would have come out of that situation alive. Because you had 600 prisoners there and they all attacked one man. And I don’t believe there was a way that he could have survived, no matter how much we prayed, and how good he was. 

I told the church congregation I think Mike was over there doing something that had to be done. But I don’t think it was in God’s plan that He said I am going to send Mike Spann there and he’s going to get killed. I said I just can’t believe that because if I do I’ll be mad at God. 

Mike left three little kids – a six-month-old boy who will never remember his father holding him in his arms, and a four-year-old daughter who it’s doubtful will remember him, and a nine-year-old who cried her eyes out when I told her that her daddy was dead. I just can’t believe that. 

I said let’s walk out in front of my office, and we’re going to stand there, and when the first eighteen-wheeler comes down the road I want you to step out in front of it, and I want you to pray, as a matter of fact we’ll pray together that that truck won’t kill you. 
Well I can’t do that.
I said then you need to back up on what you’re saying. Then I got invited to a nice little prayer breakfast in Cullman Alabama, and it was preachers and Christians and all denominations held at one of the big auditoriums there. I guess there were three or four hundred people there. And I thought about it as I was driving over and wondered well what am I going to say? I thought they were going me to talk about just what you asked me here – did I think my faith in God is what got me through this, but I’d been told that so many times, this was God’s plan and this was God’s will, and I just need to accept it.
So when I got there, and got to the podium, I told them I realize everyone has a right to their own opinion, and I have something I really want to talk to you about, and I want you to think about it. I said that if you’re guilty of saying this kind of thing, you might want to change your ways and the way you say it. 
The first thing I want to tell you is when you walk up to somebody like me that’s just lost their son, whether it be in war, or in a car accident, or whatever, the most fitting thing you can say to them is I’m so sorry for your loss. I wish I could change it, but I’m so sorry for your loss. 
God’s will in the Garden of Eden was nobody would die and nobody would be hurt and there would be no pain. But man made the decision himself to break God’s rule and sin and brought sin into the world. You can say He allowed this to happen, but no matter how much we had prayed, I don’t believe we could have brought Mike out of that situation alive. 
After the service, there were some who didn’t come by to shake my hand, but there were numbers of people that stood in line to shake my hand and tell me that they’d never thought about that, and that they realized what I was saying and where I was coming from.

All of them might have believed they were saying something good. But the truth is, what they were saying was just cutting me to the bone. They seemed to be suggesting that Mike just wasn’t a good enough person. He had just sinned too much or something. 
On this tenth anniversary I just want people to look back at all those who have given their lives – not only Mike, but so many more. These guys just keep going back and giving of themselves. At some point they’re going to give out, but we can learn from the experiences we’ve had. I believe that if we go back to 1992 to 2000, and how we handled our foreign affairs, and misused our money, and the things that we cut, was very poor judgement.
When Mike called me and told me he was going to go with the CIA, that night we had a long conversation, and one of the things he said to me was, Dad, the American people are going to be paying for the things that have gone on in this Clinton administration for many years to come. 

Mike was aware, and a thinking person, and that was his take on the follow-up to cutting back our military, (early 1999). Even with all he did putting himself in harm’s way, he seemed to feel that he wasn’t doing enough. But all of us – each one of us – needs to give and contribute to our country. I’m too old to go and fight, but any influence I can have by passing on these things that have happened, I think I need to say it.

VS: Mike Spann was an extraordinary American. And I say that his father, Johnny Spann, belongs in the same elite company too. Both have sacrificed so much. May we be forever grateful. God bless these two heroes, and their families. Each and every one.

Email. Johnnyspann@hotmailcom.