Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Marine Corps celebrates 235th anniversary

A table, draped in black, stood at the front of the room with a solitary, inverted place setting. As the U.S. Marines celebrated their 235th birthday in the Hotel Capstone on Thursday night, Commandant Harold Battles of the Johnny Micheal Spann Detachment in Tuscaloosa emphasized the importance of always remembering fallen comrades.

“The place is set for those Marines who have gone before us,” Battles explained. “The flame of the lighted black candle symbolizes that those who have passed before will be with us always.”

He said that the I.D. tags are blank to demonstrate that a fallen Marine can be of any creed, color or hometown across the nation. A purple heart was set adjacent to a pair of white gloves, a hat and a sword to symbolize wounds in combat. Battles proposed a toast to all who have died in combat.

One such man is the namesake of Detachment 1272, Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, the first battlefield casualty in the war on terrorism that began Sept. 11, 2001. Spann served in the Marines for eight years and then worked as a CIA agent in counter-terrorism.

“He was always very patriotic and loved our country,” his mother Gaile Spann said. “He checked a book out of the school library in 7th grade about the CIA. He always knew he wanted to do it.”

Spann’s father, Johnny, remembered when Mike graduated from Auburn University and told Johnny that he was going to join the Marine Corps.

“He said to me, ‘It’s like this; If I don’t go be a Marine now, I’m never going to be one,’” Johnny Spann said.

Mike Spann later joined the CIA and became involved in covert operations, where he was responsible for linking up with the warlords in Afghanistan and locating the Taliban and Al Quaeda. Johnny said the family was supportive of Mike’s decision to serve his country.

“He joined in March, and his daughter Allison was born that May,” Gaile Spann said. “As a mother and daughter of course, we miss him very much, but we’re very proud of him.”

Mike Spann’s daughter Allison said one of her favorite memories of her dad was when he coached her soccer team. She said she started playing when she was 6 years old and treasures a picture she has of their team.

Mike Spann died when he was 32, leaving behind two daughters, ages 9 and 3, and a 6-month-old son Jacob.

“The sacrifice of being a Marine for me, personally, was losing my daughter,” said Lt. Gen. Willie Williams, who has served for 36 years. “The service didn’t contribute, but it gave me a small glimpse into what others have to endure with children who go forth into battle. I understand what it means to lose a son or a daughter.”

Williams said being a Marine means sacrificing time with your wife and children. It means missing tee ball games and birthdays. But, to many, it is well worth the cost to ensure the liberty Americans enjoy.

There are only two kinds of people who understand Marines: Marines and the enemy, according to a video tribute to the 235th birthday event.

Gen. James F. Amos of the U.S. Marine Corps was quoted as saying, “For 235 years, at sea and ashore, Marines have succeeded in every clime and place… where hardship and adversity have often been the common thread.”

The cake-cutting ceremony served as an annual renewal of each Marine’s commitment to the Corps and their subsequent commitment to the nation. In the ceremony, the cake is sliced with a traditional Mameluke Sword, and the oldest Marine in attendance must take the first piece and pass it on to the youngest Marine in attendance. This symbolizes the passing on of wisdom and experience and meeting the needs of another before one’s own.

This time, 89-year-old Walter Dean took the cake and gave it to 20-year-old William Rountree.

“Veteran’s Day is a time to remember those who have fallen and those who are still with us,” Gaile Spann said. “We are the land of the free and the home of the brave, because the brave keep us free.”

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