Johnny was in Pakistan when the United States suffered its first casualty in the War on Terror. He was flying CIA director George Tenet when they received the news—American CIA officer Johnny Mike Spann had been killed while interrogating prisoners.
Immediately, Director Tenet asked if they could escort Spann’s body back to the U.S. After a few calls, they were able to alter the flight plan to land at Ramstein Air Base where Spann’s remains had been transported.
The next morning, they began their flight to the United States. Somehow the word must have gotten out that they were returning the remains because whenever they checked in, the air traffic controllers would say, “Godspeed, John Spann.”
When they landed, Spann’s parents and wife were waiting. They were led to the casket where they could have a private moment with their loved one. As they entered the plane, Payne saw the wife’s little child, younger than his own kids, and a baby in her arms. “It was really emotional,” Payne later recalled. “Now it’s hitting home.”
The flight attendants were instructed to serve the family, but several attendants would become overwhelmed with emotion and retreat to the cockpit to cry.
Thousands of Americans would die in the War on Terror. Here was the first.