"He captures their eyes." That's what family members say when they look at the portraits Michael Reagan sketches of their loved ones who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Reagan is a Vietnam War veteran who took up drawing as a hobby during the war. It later became his profession. His home studio in Edmonds, Wash., is stacked with signed drawings of some of the 1,500 celebrities, athletes and presidents he's drawn.
Two years ago, Reagan drew a portrait of a serviceman killed in Iraq and presented it to the man's wife. Her reaction was so powerful and positive that Reagan realized he wanted to close his art studio, retire and draw for the families of all the fallen heroes.
Photo caption: Pfc. Sam Williams Huff, 18, of Tucson, Ariz., died on April 18, 2005, from inuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near her vehicle in Baghdad. Drawing courtesy of Michael Reagan.
Reagan begins work each day at 2:00 am and usually completes two portraits a day; each one takes him about five hours. When NBC cameraman Geoff Nelson arrived to shoot the story that will air on tonight's broadcast, he could see Reagan through the window, alone, sketching in the pre-dawn light. Reagan talked to us as he drew, and in his way he communicated with the pictures he was drawing, showing his tremendous respect for the veterans of this war.
Reagan's wife Cheryl has made scrapbooks of all the cards received from family members of the fallen soldiers. She read for us from one card: "Dear Mr. Reagan, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the incredible drawing of my husband, the resemblance is very striking and the drawing has so much life in it, you captured the life in my husband's eyes so much I actually talk to the drawing, like I was talking to him."
There are hundreds of such notes. And there are more than 430 sketches of the fallen in Reagan's beautiful scrapbooks.
Michael Reagan's story is one of goodness, sadness and love. He respects and honors soldiers and their families more than anyone I've ever met. And he's committed.
"Any family that contacts me and wants a portrait, they'll get it," Regan told me. "Free of charge. All they have to do is get me the photograph. I'm paying the postage. We're covering the cost of everything that's associated with this because they've given up enough."
Photo caption: Lance Cpl. Jeremiah Savage, Tenn., killed in action on May 12, 2004. Drawing courtesy of Michael Reagan.