Michael Reagan was living a quiet life as an artist in Edmonds, WA, creating detailed, photorealistic pencil drawings. His pencils can capture all the unique lines and shapes to create a faithful, lifelike portrait of just about anyone.
But his art all changed one day back in 2003 when he got a call. It was someone commissioning a portrait. And not just any portrait, but a memorial portrait for a Marine corpsman who died in Iraq in 2002.
Reagan himself was a Marine in the Vietnam War, and so this request touched him deeply — and forced him to face some of the painful, traumatic memories he brought back with him.
While in Vietnam, he held another dying Marine in his arms. Reagan and the other Marine were both only 19 years old.
“He just looked me in the face and said, ‘Mike, I just wanna go home,'” he remembers. “And he looked up at me, closed his eyes, and died… I’ve seen that face for 48 years every day.”
So when he was asked to create the portrait for another fallen Marine decades later, he became inspired not only to help military families with their grief, but to resolve his own as well. He created a memorial that was equal parts personal art and universal honor.
Reagan started the Fallen Heroes Project, for which he creates hand-drawn, one-of-a-kind graphite portraits of soldiers from all branches of the military who have died in service. He’s even expanded to take commissions from families in other countries, including Canada, the U.K., and Poland.
He hopes these memorials will not only provide some comfort to grieving families, but will also serve as a way for everyone to recognize the sacrifice these men and women made.