Remembering Mike Spann, Roslyn Schulte, Jonathan Porto, Billie Taylor Presson, Christopher David Horton, the Cornell Class of 1944, and the other fallen, known and unknown.
Each Memorial Day we try to focus on the lives of a small number of individuals who gave their lives for our country, and whose stories we have followed for several years. In this way we put human faces and life stories honoring all those who paid the ultimate price.
Click on each hyperlinked heading for prior posts about the person.
Johnny “Mike” Spann was the first American killed inside Afghanistan after 9/11. A CIA special operations officer, he helped organized Northern Alliance forces against the Taliban, before being killed during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi fortress, killed by Taliban prisoners. “American Taliban” John Walker Linde was interrogated by Spann, and was present, but it’s not known if he participated in the killing of Spann (he’s never been charged with that).
On November 24, 2020, CBS News posted an interview with a former CIA officer about Spann’s death:
In this episode of Intelligence Matters: Declassified, Michael Morell speaks with David Tyson, a retired CIA officer who served in Afghanistan after 9/11. Tyson joins Michael on the anniversary of the death of fellow CIA officer Mike Spann, who was the first American casualty in Afghanistan. Tyson recounts the story of Spann’s death, the battle that lead to it, and how he honors Spann’s legacy today.
- Death of Mike Spann: “As the gunfire and explosions continued, the local guard force and the prisoners began to move and attack each other. A lot of people started running away. It was very chaotic. Some of the prisoners came towards me, came for me, and I started to shoot at them. I moved eventually to Mike. And I found him covered with 4 al-Qaida guys. Mike was dead at this point. I took his rifle. With his rifle and my pistol, I began to fire again. Over the course of about 17 minutes, I fired about 100 rounds and with my pistol and Mike’s rifle. It was very intense combat, very close quarters combat. And sometimes these guys were just feet away when they were shooting at me, and I was shooting at them.”
- Battle of Qala-i-Jangi: “I can’t say I remember thinking that I was going to die. I was in a state of amazement. Just trying to comprehend what was going on and what I was doing and what they were trying to do to me. Again, it was very strange. Fear was not part of the equation. It’s not because I was being brave. It was simply because fear had no place right then for me.”
- Honoring Spann’s Legacy: “The whole question of death and survival. Mike had three young children at the time, now they’re young adults. He had a wife. He had loving parents, and their loss is forever. What Mike could have done with his life, that’s all gone as well. So for me, I try to use his memory in a way so that I might be a better person as cliché as that might sound.”
In a video posted on December 24, 2020, Preston Stewart tells the story of Mike Spann, the CIA special operations officer who was the first American killed inside Afghanistan after 9/11, and ow he died during the Battle of Qala-i-Jangi:
Johnny ‘Mike’ Spann was working in the CIA when al-Qaeda terrorists conducted their attacks on September 11, 2001. Before long, Spann, a prior Marine, found himself on the ground in Afghanistan, searching for these killers.
Spann was one of the first Americans on the ground in Afghanistan and immediately set about tying in with local forces from the Northern Alliance. Spann focused on building relationships with local military leaders, specifically General Dostum, in preparation for the arrival of American Special Forces units that would hopefully turn the tide in the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
Spann helped coordinate resources and relayed critical intelligence from the front lines as Dostum and his US advisors took the critical city of Mazar-i-Sharif in early November. As the first major victory over the Taliban, this battle saw quite a few enemy fighters offer to surrender. Of the new prisoners, Spann and his team pulled aside nearly 600 with suspected ties to al-Qaeda for further questioning to be done at a fortress known as Qala-i-Jangi.
The prisoners were quickly moved during the night and placed in a cellar to be interrogated the following morning by Spann and his colleague. However, in the chaos, many prisoners were able to sneak weapons in with them.
The following day, as Spann worked through the prisoners, asking where they were from, why they were in Afghanistan and more, shots rang out. The armed prisoners were staging an uprising and Spann was caught right in the middle. Fighting for his life, Spann emptied his pistol and rifle at close range before engaging dozens of al-Qaeda fighters in hand to hand combat. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, Spann was quickly killed, the first American killed in combat during the war in Afghanistan.
The Northern Alliance guards locked down the fort and as US and British special operators arrived on scene, the retaking of the fort began. After a few days, with the help of American airpower, only a few dozen holdouts remained holed up in a cellar. General Dostum ordered the cellar flooded with cold water, forcing their final surrender. In all, barely 80 of the initial 600+ prisoners would survive the uprising.
Spann’s daughter is quoted in this recent article, Secret concert held for children of fallen heroes:
Each year, intelligence professionals, special operators and the children of fallen heroes gather for a heartfelt cause — with no written invitations and a time and place so secret, it’s on a need-to-know basis.
A professional keeper of secrets, retired CIA officer Mark Kelton now sits on the board of an event so cloak and dagger, even the name is shrouded in secrecy.
“We like to call it a ‘covert concert event,'” he told CBS News’ Catherine Herridge. “We come from a secret world, it’s on a need-to-know basis, and that adds somewhat to the mystique of the event.”
Some past performers are far from unknown – ZZ Top, The Steve Miller Band and Peter Frampton. One year, Lenny Kravitz rubbed shoulders with a four-star general.
To date, more than $3.5 million in scholarships has been raised for the CIA, Special Operations and Defense Intelligence memorial foundations.
“These scholarship made it possible for me to go through school,” said Alison Spann, this year’s concert emcee and a scholarship recipient, who is now a local TV journalist. Her CIA-officer father, Mike Spann, was the first American killed in Afghanistan after 9/11.
“Every day is Memorial Day for my family,” Spann told CBS News. “We think about my dad all the time. He really believed in the United States and he believed that this was the best country in the world.”
One of the last videos taken of Mike Spann was of him interrogating John Walker Lindh, who was later branded the “American Taliban.” Alison, whose father died in 2001, described how the classified nature of her father’s work made the grieving process more difficult.
“There are so many questions that are left unanswered, and I think that that part’s hard,” she said. “And the truth is, we will probably never know exactly what happened there.”
Mike Spann, a Marine and CIA ops officer, was the first to fall in Afghanistan after 9/11 in 2001 but he would not be the last. 2,351 others would be lost there too over the last two decades. I’ve met and interviewed his wonderful dad Johnny. pic.twitter.com/LnpRWC1ugM
— James Gordon Meek (@meekwire) May 30, 2021
Toby Harnden has written a book due to be released September 7, 2021, that includes (based on the book description) an account of Mike Spann’s death and service:
FIRST CASUALTY tells the story of the secret mission of the eight members of the CIA’s Team Alpha, the first Americans to be dropped behind enemy lines in Afghanistan after 9/11.
After just a month, Team Alpha, riding on horseback alongside warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and U.S. Special Forces, had pushed the Taliban out of much of northern Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda, however, was plotting to strike back. A “Trojan horse” surrender of 500 foreign fighters led to their incarceration inside Qala-i-Janghi – “the House of War” – just outside the key city Mazar-i-Sharif. Determined to prevent another 9/11, the CIA went in to interrogate them despite the danger. CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed when the prisoners, including an American, John Walker Lindh, overcame their guards using weapons they had smuggled in. Spann’s CIA comrade David Tyson fought his way out in some of the most intense combat ever faced by an American who lived to tell the tale.
Tyson was honored for his valor in remaining inside the fort to help coordinate U.S. and British forces who had raced to the scene to quell the uprising. If successful, the revolt, part of a broader plan to recapture Mazar-i-Sharif, could have reversed the defeat of the Taliban regime and led to countless more deaths.
Toby Harnden, winner of the Orwell Prize for Books, paints an intimate portrait of intelligence and war, drawing on extensive research inside Afghanistan and interviews with Team Alpha members, CIA leaders, Special Forces, Mike Spann’s widow Shannon, and Dostum. FIRST CASUALTY is the searing, untold story of how America’s war in Afghanistan began with a swift victory, many of the lessons of which were ignored as America became bogged down in an unwinnable war.
20 years ago this weekend, @CIA paramilitary officer Mike Spann visited Arlington Cemetery – a sacred place for him – with his pregnant wife & two daughters. On Nov 25, 2001, he became America’s first casualty in Afghanistan & was buried at Arlington 15 days later #MemorialDay pic.twitter.com/DG3Yz4H6jm
— Toby Harnden (@tobyharnden) May 31, 2021
This video posted in November 2020, honors Roslyn Schulte:
The Air Force has established a scholarship in Roslyn Schulte’s memory.
— USAFA CCLD (@USAFA_CCLD) May 24, 2021
Be sure to reread the post at Legal Insurrection by Cpl. Porto’s wife, I am proud to be the widow of Cpl Jonathan Daniel Porto, USMC.
Memorial Day. What does it mean to me?
It means a time to reflect on my husband’s service and sacrifice. A time to reflect on the sacrifices of thousands of families like my own….
On January 15, 2010, our daughter Ariana was born. I was fortunate to receive a call from him while I was in labor and because of that, he was present with me when his daughter graced this earth. We had a few months to go until he would be home with us and physically get to meet her.
Except, that day never came.
On March 15, 2010, two uniformed men rang my doorbell before dawn. A Navy Chaplain and a Marine Staff NCO from 6th Marine Regiment. Their words forever changed our lives as they informed me Jonathan had been killed the day prior.
It has been over 6 years since that fateful day. Over 6 years of figuring out life without him by my side. Still, every day I think of him, every day I miss him.
Memorial Day to me and our family is the day the rest of the nation gets a brief glimpse of our last 6 years. It is a day designed to reflect and feel gratitude for the men and women who have given up everything in the name of this nation. My husband, like all the others who have given their lives in war, had a story: He had a family, he had hopes and dreams and plans, he had a past and memories, he had his entire life ahead of him. Yet he chose to lay down all of that in the name of American Freedom.
Cpl. Porto’s Uncle is a Legal Insurrection reader. If you are reading this, please feel free to send me any updates and I will add it to this post.
Relatives of a Collinsville soldier whose body was returned Tuesday to Tulsa from Afghanistan, where he was killed, said they want people to continue to support other soldiers still in harm’s way.
Oklahoma Army National Guard Spc. Christopher D. Horton, 26, was killed Sept. 9 by small-arms fire.
His remains were met Tuesday by his wife, Jane Horton, and his parents, Cherie and David Horton, at the Oklahoma Air National Guard Base in Tulsa.
“Today is the day we welcome home a true American hero,” Jane Horton said.
Jane Horton was recently interviewed in The Washington Examiner:
I just found this article, originally posted in 2011, Fallen soldier’s family urges support for those still deployed
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