WASHINGTON – Holding her infant son close to her, and with her two young daughters standing nearby in the chilly breeze, Shannon Spann watched grief-stricken but proud Monday as her husband, hailed as an American hero, was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
CIA officer Johnny Micheal "Mike" Spann "served his country by being good," she said, yet her heart was broken two weeks ago "in a place really far from here."
"I want to tell you my husband is a hero. Mike is a hero not because of the way he died, but because of the way he lived," she said.
Spann, 32, has so far been the only American to die fighting the enemy inside Afghanistan, killed in an uprising at a prisoner-of-war camp near Mazar-e-Sharif Nov. 25.
"From his earliest days ... he worked to do what was right," CIA Director George J. Tenet told those gathered, including many members of the CIA. "It was in the quest for right that Mike at his country's call went to Afghanistan. To that place of danger and terror, he sought to bring justice and freedom."
Spann knew that "information saved lives, and that collection is a risk worth taking," Tenet said.
It was up to covert officers from the CIA's Directorate of Operations — who try to keep their identities secret — to decide whether to attend the funeral.
Spann, a paramilitary officer with the CIA's Special Activities Division, received full military honors from the Marine Corps, where he was a captain of artillery before joining the intelligence service 2 years ago.
Just before his death he had been interviewing Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters, including American John Walker, captured in the nearby city of Kunduz after a week-long siege.
The CIA will hold a private service for him Tuesday, spokesman Mark Mansfield said. He described employees as saddened but resolute.
"The importance of the mission is what keeps people energized and focused," he said.
Though length of Spann's military service did not qualify him for burial at Arlington, President George W. Bush signed a waiver allowing him to be buried there at the family's request, a White House spokesman said.
Of the 260,000 people buried at Arlington, only a few hundred have received waivers.
A memorial service for Spann was held in his hometown of Winfield, Ala., last week. the Auburn University graduate lived in a Virginia suburb of Washington.
Eight other Americans, all military personnel, have died in connection with the fighting in Afghanistan. Four U.S. personnel died in accidents; a fifth committed suicide.
Three Green Berets were also killed, by an errant U.S. bomb near Kandahar. They were Master Sgt. Jefferson "Donnie" Davis, 39, of Watauga, Tenn., Staff Sgt. Brian Cody Prosser, 28, of Frazier Park, Calif., and Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Petithory, 32, of Cheshire, Mass., were memorialized Monday at Fort Campbell, Ky.
"Children are able to laugh, play and sing because of what they did," Lt. Col. Frank Hudson told a crowd of mourners that overflowed Memorial Chapel.
The CIA is heavily involved in the Afghanistan conflict, working covertly alongside the more public military effort. CIA officers have been providing weapons, money and intelligence to rebel groups opposing the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as interrogating prisoners captured during the fighting.
Spann is the 79th CIA employee to die in the line of duty.
The first 78 have a star on the wall in the lobby of the agency's main building in suburban Virginia. Spann's will be added in the coming months.
Slightly more than half of the stars include names. The identities of the rest are kept secret. CIA officials said they had no compelling reason to keep Spann's identity secret, and wanted to honor his sacrifice.
Two CIA officers died in the line of duty in 1998. No information has been released about their deaths. Some of the better-known include Robert Ames, who died in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, and William Buckley, who was killed in 1985 after being kidnapped the previous year in Lebanon.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.