Veteran Draws Portraits of Fallen Soldiers for Their Families, Free of Charge
Vietnam veteran Michael Reagan has been drawing portraits for the families of fallen soldiers for more than a decade.
Reagan, a Marine, was serving in the war in 1968 when his comrade, Vinnie Santaniello, died in his arms after a rocket attack.
“We weren’t going to succeed in keeping him alive. The last thing he said, ‘I just want to go home,’ and then he died,” Reagan told InsideEdition.com. “A lot of the soldiers aren’t coming home and I want to keep Vincent’s wish for all of the soldiers I can.”
Reagan, who used to draw celebrity portraits, drew his first portrait for a fallen solider after the wife of one had seen his work.
Cherise Johnson reached out to Reagan asking if he would draw the portrait of her husband, Michael, who died in Iraq in 2003 as he was serving as a Navy corpsman.
“I told her that corpsmen are the bravest people I have ever known and I couldn’t charge her,” Reagan said. “So she sent me the photograph of her husband and I did it and got it back to her right away.”
The portrait changed Johnson's life.
“She called me. She said, ‘In the year my husband’s been dead I haven’t slept,’ and she had slept the night through for the first time after receiving the portrait,” Reagan said. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘Now I need to do them all.'”
That was 14 years ago, and Reagan has now drawn more than 5,100 portraits of fallen soldiers — free of charge.
“I’ve retired from my job and I have focused my life and doing these portraits,” Reagan said. “I talk to each family and learn all about the fallen hero that I can.”
Reagan said he draws two portraits a day, which each take five to six hours, and that doesn't include the research he does on the person.
He feels as though each soldier has a message to send home with the picture.
“That’s what keeps driving me to do this work,” Reagan said. “This is a life commitment. It’s my destiny.”
He hopes his portraits help each family heal.
"Mike’s work is nothing short of miraculous," said Ralph Vincent Morales, the nephew of Vincent Santaniello
Two years ago, Reagan found some of Santaniello’s family in Queens, N.Y., and drew his old friend’s portrait for them.
Reagan succeeded in bringing his friend “home.”