EDMONDS, Wash. – Honoring the sacrifice of men and women who died serving our country is the point of Memorial Day.
And for one Snohomish County Vietnam veteran, memorializing those heroes in art is how he honors their service.
It’s a labor of love and heartbreak and a way for the veteran to memorialize our country’s heroes even beyond the holiday.
For artist Michael Reagan, every stroke of his pencil is his own way of giving thanks to families who lost loved ones fighting for our freedoms.
“You know what Memorial Day isn’t? It’s not a mattress sale day," he says.
Reagan says an incident from his stint in Vietnam will forever be seared into his memory, the same day his friend, 19-year-old Vincent Santaniello, took his last breath on the battlefield.
“And when he looked at me and said, ‘Mike, I just want to go home,’" recalled Reagan, “It was the most incredible thing anyone has ever said to me. And then I watched him close his eyes and watched him leave. Mostly, because a piece of him didn’t leave, he put it in me.”
After a successful career drawing portraits of athletes, politicians and actors, Reagan began the Fallen Heroes Project – a project born when his buddy Vincent died in his arms.
“God put Vincent in my arms so he wouldn’t be alone when he died, and he never took him out of my arms,” he said.
And ever since, those same arms have been drawing the faces of thousands of men and women who also died while serving our country.
“Keith felt it was his duty to give back,” said Thurston County Gold Star Mother Susan Turley. “He was very conscious that as a white middle-class boy, he had a lot of privileges, but before he pursued his own dreams, he decided he needed to do his duty and serve his country.”
Only weeks into his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Turley’s son Keith Moore committed suicide, leaving behind a family in heartbreak.
“He was suffering beyond endurance,” said Turley.
Now Reagan’s drawing is part of a memorial in Turley’s home where her son is remembered.
“Wars kills in many different ways; I look at it that the war killed my son, too,” said Turley.
Reagan says the process is spiritual for each portrait and soldier – and vows to continue his unique way of honoring their sacrifice until the day he reunites with his old marine buddy Vincent, who he believes helped him bring comfort and closure to thousands of families across the country.
“Vincent’s going to come up to me and say, ‘We did a good job,'” said Reagan. “And I’m going to say, ‘Yes we did.'”