Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A touching interview

I've had a hard time keeping up the blog lately - between a family visit (which was a blast!), to different work schedules, to complete lack of brain power on Memorial Day from waking up before 5am. I did do an interview that really touched me yesterday, and several of you have already read it. I want to post it again on this blog so others can read it as well. I had to hold back tears several times while interviewing this man. Here is the article that appeared on http://www.komonews.com/.

Story Published: May 25, 2009 at 12:26 PM PDT
Story Updated: May 25, 2009 at 12:27 PM PDT

By Kristin Hanes
LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- Michael Reagan sits at his basement drawing table 12 to 15 hours per day, sketching in pencil. So far, he's drawn 1,730 soldiers and Marines who've died in the past five years.

Every face has a memory.
"This is Sam Huff," Reagan says, pointing at a smiling soldier. "Her last words, from what I understand, [after she was hit by an IED], were, 'Tell my parents I love them.' "

Four billboards with collages of his artwork are leaning against the walls. Reagan takes high-resolution digital photographs before sending the portraits on to the families. There's a son kissing his mother. Two comrades grinning. A man holding his baby daughter.

"They never saw each other," he says, referring to the man and his infant. "After [the soldier's] mother received this portrait back, she said to me, 'You know, way after you and I are gone, my granddaughter is going to be pointing at that portrait saying 'that's my dad.'"

Reagan studies for hours to bring these portraits to life. He watches videos, reads diaries and poems, and stares at dozens of photographs. He listens to stories, learns why a soldier might have a chipped tooth, or how one person's eyes are different sizes. His goal is to bring closure to these families -- something tangible to those who have lost something so dear.
"I've had moms call me," he says, "and they say when they look at the picture, they hear their sons saying, 'I'm okay, Mom.'"
The Vietnam combat veteran draws two or more portraits every day for the Fallen Heroes Project. Reagan's been a portrait artist for over 30 years, best known for drawing athletes and famous actors. But this project, these faces, hit close to home.

"It gets very emotional," Reagan says. "When I'm drawing the portrait, I believe there's an essence of the soldier in this room. I just think about him, you know, and as soon as I get his eyes done, then he'll start looking back at me, and he and I will have a spiritual conversation."

Every single portrait is free for the grieving families. Reagan says this is his lifetime commitment, and he wants to draw every single person who's died for this country.
"When I have a mom or a wife or a dad call me on the phone crying because they've just received their portrait, because a piece of their son has come home... how much is that worth?" he says.
Reagan has 100 more portraits to draw before June, when they'll be given to the families. His next goal is to draw every fallen hero from Canada, Australia and Great Britain who died in the War on Terror.


Colleen said...

That was a great story Krisin. Well done. Well told.

Travis said...

such a fantastically written story Kristin!

Sue said...

My eyes watered reading this! You are such a good storyteller.