Coming Home: Tributes to the Fallen

Article excerpt

THERE are many types of memories, and many ways to record them. Our lives are filled with the sounds, images and belongings of those we have met, befriended or lost. With the invention of the digital camera, we can now preserve in crisp, high-definition clarity every moment we desire. But there is something no camera can capture, no voice recorder can grasp: the essence of a person.

Michael Reagan, an artist based out of Seattle, provides free, hand-drawn portraits to families who have lost a loved one in the war on terror through the Fallen Heroes Project. His portraits have the ability to do what the camera cannot--capture and hold the spiritual aspect of the person depicted.

Eric Herzberg, a former Army captain, is one of many recipients of Reagan's work. Herzberg's son, a Marine, was killed in action in October 2006. After hearing about Reagan, Herzberg asked the artist to do a dual portrait of himself and his son.

"We had a personal connection right away--he's former military, I'm former military. But when I received the portrait that he drew of Eric and myself it was just so absolutely stunning," Herzberg said.

"I had a reaction I didn't expect because it meant way more to me than just the image on canvas, on art board, that he had been able to do. It was like there was a spiritual component to it, that, you know, he's bringing part of my son back to me and I was just always struck by that."

The connection that he and Reagan shared prompted Herzberg to offer his help about a year after receiving the portrait of his son, while visiting Seattle on a business trip. He discovered that Reagan had been operating all aspects of the project entirely on his own.

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"So I said 'Michael, I don't know how you're even standing up after three years. You've got to be able to just do drawing and let someone else do the rest.' And he looked at me and said 'Well, who's going to do that?' And I said 'Well, you know, why don't you just let me take a crack at it. You don't know me very well--we just met. But you're going to find out that I'm a person that does what he says he's going to do,'" Herzberg explained.

Since then, Herzberg has helped organize and run the business aspects of the project. By working with the Fallen Heroes Project, he feels he is honoring his son's memory.

"It's been truly a blessing for me," Herzberg says. "This is more like therapy for me than anything else. If I wasn't helping him, I'd probably be doing something unhealthy to numb the pain or deal with the loss of my son."

Reagan, a Vietnam combat veteran, drew celebrity portraits for 30 years, donating the proceeds to charity, prior to starting the Fallen Heroes Project. A nationwide news network aired a clip of him speaking about his portraits, and before he knew it, he had a request. A woman who saw the broadcast called him and asked if he could do a picture of a fallen Soldier--for free.

Unable to deny a fellow veteran, Reagan readily agreed to draw the portrait.

"To be real honest with you, I had no idea what it was about to do to my life," he said. When the woman received the portrait, she called Reagan to thank him. The woman had not slept through the night for a year, since her husband died in Iraq; the portrait allowed her to reconnect with her fallen hero, and she finally slept.

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From that moment on, Reagan felt he was called to provide solace to the families of the fallen.

"I'm supposed to do this," he said.

The project has been distributing portraits for five years, and provides pictures for every branch of the military. To date, more than 1,600 portraits have been given away, all for free, including postage. He considers this project more important than his previous career as an artist. …