They say a picture is worth a thousand words—if that’s the case, Michael Reagan has written over 5 million words in the past 13 years!
He spends hours each day drawing. Reagan’s beautiful hand-drawn portraits are immaculately detailed, yet he gives them away for free to people who really need them.
When you find out the story behind his portraits, your heart is going to melt!
Michael Reagan is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He would draw portraits in between battles.
In the 1960s, Reagan served in the Vietnam War as a marine.
“I did a lot of ‘war stuff,'” he told HooplaHa in 2017. “But, in between, I did a lot of portraits of my friends and, sadly, some of that was the only stuff that came back home.”
One of those friends was Vinny Santaniello, who Reagan witnessed getting struck by a rocket attack right before the war ended. This moment would stick with him forever.
“At the last second he looked at me and said, ‘Mike I just want to go home’ and he died,” Reagan told People in 2017. “I see his face every day.”
Reagan returned home in 1968 but he held onto the memories of Santaniello and all the other soldiers who had passed.
Once home, he drew celebrity portraits for a dinner theater, which created some important connections.
At home, he went all in on his hobby. He attended art school and became an artist for the University of Washington for 30 years. He also drew celebrity portraits at The Cirque Dinner Theater in Seattle until it shut down in 1981.
“When it closed, I continued to meet these celebrities in Hollywood,” he told HooplaHa. “I get them to autograph blank illustration boards and donate them around the country to different charities.”
Reagan built quite the following through his work and, in the 1990s, his success allowed him to work with a more well-known Reagan.
“The Republican Party called me and said ‘We’d like you to do a portrait of President Reagan,'” he said. “The reason for that is that is, when I was in Vietnam, my last name and his last name were the same … We always had this rumor that there was a relationship.”
“When I was in Vietnam, I would write to him because he was the governor of California.”
Michael Reagan spent 20 minutes with the former president and found out they were indeed related. Yet, related or not, he seemed to really speak to U.S. presidents—10 years later, he received a call from then-President George W. Bush.
In the early 2000s, Reagan got a call from President Bush with a mysterious proposition.
Bush initially called about getting portraits of he and his family. He was favorably impressed, saying Reagan “caught the sparkle in my wife’s eyes.” Yet, when the conversation turned to 9/11, Reagan recalled Bush saying something rather interesting.
“I can’t tell you what we’re about to do but, as a veteran, I need you to be aware of whatever you can do to help a new group of veterans that’s going to come about,” Bush allegedly said. “Just promise me you can do that.”
Months passed and Reagan heard nothing. Then, in 2004, he received a phone call from a woman in Boise, Idaho.
“I just saw a picture of your portraits on NBC,” she told Reagan. “How much would you charge for a portrait of my husband? … He died last year in Iraq.”
Reagan wouldn’t charge for his art. A few days later, he heard from the woman again:
“In a year, I haven’t slept a full night through … I’m calling you to say ‘Thank You’ because last night’s the first night I’ve slept all night.”
From then on, Reagan knew that giving portraits of deceased veterans to families was his life’s calling. His then-wife questioned how he was going to pay for all it, to which he said:
“We’re gonna turn that over to God. I don’t have time to worry about it.”
For 13 years, Reagan has gifted portraits of deceased veterans to their families. He’s done over 5,000 so far.
In 2004, Reagan started the Fallen Heroes Project. Since its inception, he’s created over 5,000 portraits for thousands of different families.
“I’ve heard the same thing back from all of them,” Reagan said. “The pictures are helping their hearts heal.”
Reagan takes his work very seriously. He believes each picture speaks to him, and tries to capture their story through his portraits.
“I’m extremely proud of what he’s doing and I’ve seen over the years the commitment it takes for him to do this project,” Bob Little, his friend, told HooplaHa.
Still, sometimes Reagan gets too absorbed in the project and needs to be taken away for a bit.
Reagan accomplishes this by walking 5 1/2 miles after each drawing.
“I try to walk myself out of a broken heart, so the next day I can draw another one and break my heart all over again,” Reagan told People.
While the project may be tough for him, Reagan’s work is incredible. Click the video below for examples.