On Memorial Day in 2001, Mike insisted we bring his daughters Alison, who had just turned 9, and Emily, 3, to visit Arlington National Cemetery. It was a sacred day for him, and Arlington was a sacred place.
He was a former Marine Corps officer with a deep patriotism and respect for those who had paid for our freedom with their lives. At that time, we were both serving our country as CIA officers.
I was just a few days away from giving birth to our son, Jake. There were certainly other things we could have done with the girls that day. But on Memorial Day, if you were Mike Spann and you were within reach of a place to honor fallen service members, that’s what you did.
We took the Metro — nobody offered their seat to the nine-months-pregnant woman — and walked all around the cemetery, spending most of the day there.
I remember Mike telling the girls the story of the cemetery and the wars Americans had fought in. He explained to them how to step respectfully behind a headstone rather than right in front of it. We walked along Grant Drive, named after Ulysses S. Grant, the Union general and later U.S. president, who was one of Mike’s heroes.
Eight days later, Jake was born, and just three months after that, our nation was attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists on 9/11. As with so many people, my life — already complicated — was turned upside down.
For my family, the turmoil and tragedy were more direct than for most — Mike was one of the first eight Americans sent behind enemy lines in Afghanistan and on Nov. 25, 2001, he became America’s first casualty on the battlefield in a new war that would last for 20 years.
He died fighting, shooting back at his al-Qaeda attackers at close quarters during a prisoner uprising at Qala-i-Jangi before he was overwhelmed. We were both 32.