WASHINGTON – Johnny Micheal Spann grew up in an Alabama town once named Needmore. John Walker Lindh grew up on two coasts, in places that have plenty.
Raised far apart in distance and 12 years apart in time, the future CIA agent and Taliban adherent had few things in common. They were rather quiet, but with a mischievous streak. They outgrew their surroundings.
And at an age when a young man's mind can be all clutter, Johnny and John found focus before leaving boyhood. Spann's course appeared set for some time. For Lindh, it seemed to come at the speed of revelation.
One wanted to serve his country. One wanted to know and serve Islam, what he saw as its core.
Their paths crossed in a perilous hour at Afghanistan's Kala Jangi fortress.
There, Spann, 32-year-old CIA agent, interrogated the battle-scarred Lindh, 20-year-old convert to the Taliban cause. An uprising by Lindh's fellow prisoners followed and Spann was killed Nov. 25.
Now, Spann is buried with the nation's most honored dead at Arlington National Cemetery, across the river from where Lindh was born. Lindh is in the custody of U.S. authorities who are deciding what charges he should face for fighting for the other side.
"A good kid, an all-American kid," the family minister said of Spann.
"A really good boy, a really sweet boy," Lindh's dad, Frank, said of his son.
A Boy Called Mike
Spann was from Winfield, an Appalachian foothills town of 4,500 that swells to five times its size for Mule Day in September. It changed its name ages ago to honor Army Gen. Winfield Scott. God and Friday night football games are important.
People called him Mike.
When Lindh was a bright-eyed, dark-haired kid with a constellation of freckles and an interest in Nintendo games and Matchbox cars, Spann was motoring through high school. He was a good student and a solid but not spectacular running back and wide receiver on the football team, coach Joe Hubbert said.
At practice one day, Hubbert saw Spann gazing at a small plane overhead and asked him why.
"Coach, that's my trainer plane," Hubbert remembered Spann saying. "I'm getting my license."
The boy amplified on his ambitions a few weeks later, at another practice, when Hubbert approached the high school senior while others on the team did their stretching exercises.
"I asked him, 'What are you going to pursue in life?' He said, 'I'm going to get my criminal justice degree, then from there I'm going to join the Marines. After that I'm going to become CIA, FBI or a pilot."'
He followed that plan almost to the letter. He got that degree, spent eight years in the Marines and joined the CIA's paramilitary unit in 1999.
Spann's eyesight was not good enough to let him fly planes for a living. He jumped out of them instead.
"I want a Talkbox. Sell me one. Thank you."
Lindh's posting on the Internet, in March 1997 at age 16 after his interest in Islam had been roused, showed that he had not given up an intense following of black music. He was in search of a voice-altering device so he could "sound like Roger Troutman," the funk artist.
For a time, God and gadgets were both important to him.
In 1991, a year after Spann made the dean's list at Auburn University, Lindh's family had moved to wealthy Marin County, outside San Francisco, from the Maryland suburbs of Washington.
Lindh was 10, a shy and smart kid who played flute and worried about the poor. His parents have split up.
After rising through regular public schools, Lindh had some home tutoring at age 16 because of an intestinal illness and went to an alternative high school attended by high achievers.
The teen-ager's Internet wanderings point vaguely to what was going on in his off-line life. They are a blend of spiritual and material worlds -- exploring the meaning of the Quran, trying to buy a drum machine and selling his collection of more than 200 hip-hop albums.
"I've heard recently that certain musical instruments are forbidden by Islam," he wrote in a July 1996 posting to an Islamic newsgroup, when he was 15. "There is nothing in the Qur'an that I can find relating to this matter."
He asked what instruments were allowed or prohibited.
This was a month after he put a video game system up for sale, complete with games he listed as Splatterhouse 2 and Captain America & The Avengers.
In September 1996, he wrote, "If anyone has any Malcolm X speeches on vinyl for sale, I'd like to buy them." The black Muslim leader's autobiography had helped lead Lindh to Islam.
In May 1997 -- age 16 -- he asked "internet Muslims" whether it was OK by the faith to possess drawings of living things, and: "Is it alright to watch cartoons on TV or in movies?"
This was the year he turned to San Francisco mosques known for their evangelical zeal. His interest in material things appeared to be waning. But his adolescent potty humor had not left him quite yet.
He signed some of his Internet postings "Dr. Hine E. Craque." "Doodoo" was part of his e-mail address.
The CIA Calls
When Spann was about the age Lindh is now, he was taking an ROTC pistol marksmanship program and building and selling a house -- a taste of his father's real estate developing business -- to help pay for school.
Degree in hand in 1992, Spann enlisted in officer training school for the Marines and rose to captain, with an expertise in artillery. He'd married his first wife while in college and had two children through his 20s.
In 1999, he joined the CIA and began adventures unknown, as his marriage began to fall apart.
Lindh Goes to Yemen
Lindh was drawn to a collection of San Francisco mosques that are part of a movement known as "tablighi jamaat," or preaching society.
He went to a weekend retreat not long after he began attending the Mill Valley mosque in 1997. It was around this time "he accepted Islam," said Ebrahim Nana, a board member at the mosque.
Lindh, in Islamic clothing and with a beard, wanted to be called Suleyman.
He wanted much more than that, too. In 1998, after a trip to Ireland with his father, a lawyer, the 17-year-old journeyed without family to Yemen and devoted himself to learning Arabic so he could read the Quran in its original language.
Lives Shrouded in Mystery
In the last few years, mystery descended on both men's lives. Spann's CIA work was by definition secret. Living in northern Virginia, he divorced and then married a CIA employee, and they had a baby.
Lindh spent 10 months abroad, came home for eight months and went back in February 2000. His trails grew fainter but took him to Pakistan and ultimately Afghanistan, including, by his own statement, a training camp run by Osama bin Laden.
His parents had not heard from him since this spring, when he said he was moving somewhere cooler than the Pakistani province where he was attending religious school.
Around that time, Spann visited his old town, where people were glad to see him at church, said his old coach.
Sept. 11 put the two Americans on their course to meet.
"Just support the military, especially when the bodies start coming home," Spann said in an e-mail to sister Tonya on Sept. 19.
On Nov. 25, Spann and another CIA agent known as Dave tried to cajole the captive Lindh into talking. Dave took a menacing approach; Spann was the reasoning one. He talked about the Sept. 11 hijackers.
"They killed other Muslims," he said. "There were several hundred other Muslims killed in the bombing. Are you going to talk to us?"
Lindh was silent.
Later that day, the prisoners took over the prison. Spann, under circumstances not fully explained, was killed, becoming the first U.S. combat death in the war.
Lindh disappeared into a basement, wounded in the melee, to be flushed out almost a week later, weak, filthy and in pain.
Except for his pearly white teeth, he hardly resembled the California boy who wanted to change his voice with a gadget.