Magazine article Newsweek

A Dreamer with 'No Fear': Mike Spann, the First Combat Casualty in Afghanistan, Had Come a Long Way from Winfield, Ala

Magazine article Newsweek

A Dreamer with 'No Fear': Mike Spann, the First Combat Casualty in Afghanistan, Had Come a Long Way from Winfield, Ala

Article excerpt

Byline: Kevin Peraino

There's not a whole lot to do for a boy growing up in Winfield, Ala.--a country town of 4,500 halfway between Birmingham and Tupelo, Miss. Johnny (Mike) Spann passed his school days like many other boys in town. He fished for bass in a nearby lake. He played arcade games and mini-golf at B.J.'s rec center, the local hangout. He snuck the occasional beer with friends in dry Marion County. He played Dixie league baseball and high-school basketball and football. But that was about the extent of the excitement in Winfield. There wasn't even a movie theater in town.

So Spann invented his own entertainment. Linda West, 58, his ninth-grade teacher, remembers giving her class that perennial assignment: what did you do on your summer vacation? Mike had most likely spent his summer as usual: bass, B.J.'s, baseball. But to liven things up, he fibbed. He told a tall tale about how he and his friend Lonnie had taken all summer to raft down the Alabama River, Huck Finn style. West knew the story wasn't true, but found it so creative she let him go on for weeks about it, allowing him to tack his adventure stories, complete with illustrations, to the schoolhouse walls.

It always seemed that the small youth, who lifted weights religiously to improve his physique, craved more excitement than Winfield had to offer. Spann went out for the football team his senior year, and was remembered for his fierce hits. He "had no fear of contact," recalls his coach, Joe Hubbert. "He was proving to himself that he was going to be a tough kid." At Hubbert's house one afternoon in 1987, Spann sat sprawled in front of the TV, watching "Top Gun" with his teammates. "That's going to be me someday," he told his friends. On another afternoon Hubbert took Spann aside on the practice field and asked him what he wanted to do with his life. I want to go to Auburn, then I'm going to be a Marine, then I'll join the FBI or the CIA, Spann told Hubbert matter-of-factly. …

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