michael reagan

Never Forget Fallen Heroes – Portrait Artist Michael Reagan

Michael Reagan is a Vietnam Veteran…a Marine who found his purpose in life drawing portraits. He founded the Fallen Heroes Project, which earned him “The Civilian Service Before Self Honors (2015) Medal from the Medal of Honor Foundation. But it’s his calling to draw the faces of the fallen that propels him, bringing healing to the families, and ultimately, healing to himself.


Michael joined the Marine Corps because he was angry. Angry at the death of a friend named Bill Denhoff who joined the Marines right out of high school after graduation in 1965.  On April 29, 1966, Bill was shot in the chest by a sniper and died on May 4. It occurred only a few days after he arrived. In May, 1966, Michael joined up with 4 of his buddies. Two went to the Army, two went to the Marines, and by 1967, when Michael went to Vietnam, he was still angry. He wanted revenge.

Michael was with Kilo Company 3/4.

“We landed in Vietnam when it was ‘185,000 degrees’ and I suddenly wondered what the heck I was doing there.”

They ended up at Con Thien. He had no concept of what “incoming” really meant, nor did he know how to dig a hole deep enough to be safe. Fortunately,  his Platoon commander, Lt. Pete Wymes got him clued in before something bad happened. He told us he lived in that 6 ft deep hole for a year.

“They called it the ‘Hill of Angels’ for a reason.”

Michael says he was able to tell Pete thank you for saving his life several years later.

While deployed, he began to draw pictures for his buddies, using the torn cartons from sea rations. (Paper didn’t last long in the humidty and mud). He would sell his pictures for cheap and send the money or the pictures home.

Sometimes the artwork was all that came home from Vietnam.

Two of Michael’s friends were killed in a 2 day firefight on 3-28-68 – Peder Armstrong, and Vincent Santaniello. Michael told us that he held Vincent in his arms as he died because he didn’t want him to feel alone.

Vincent’s last words were, “Mike I just want to go home.” Then he closed his eyes and died.  It is Vincent’s face that Michael Reagan stills sees in his mind every day of his life.

Vincent’s last words: “Mike, I just want to go home.” Then he closed his eyes and died.

Michael left the Corps as a Corporal, an E-4 Squad Leader with 1st Platoon.

A New Calling

By the time Michael returned to the US in 1968, he began spending his time in bars, drawing for free drinks. He told us that the next four years were tough ones, and it was the friends who cared about him that pulled him through, stopping his downward spiral.

After art school, Michael began to realize the drawings were part of a bigger Plan. And as he gave them to families, their lives were changed. He was even able to give his drawing of Vincent Santaniello to the family.

“Ralph Vincent Morales, Vinny’s nephew, represented Vinny’s family and in 2014 came to Edmonds for an event so I could present the portrait of Vinny. Ralph was born 2 years after Vinny died and he was named after him…I told them his last words, that he just wanted to go home. As I gave them the portrait, I said, now ‘his journey begins.'”

Michael’s own journey home from Vietnam began with the portraits of the fallen.

People contact Michael to draw portraits of loved ones lost. He has drawn the faces of famous celebrities, civilians and military young and old. One face that stuck with him was Lilly Garcia, the 4 year old victim of a drive by shooting in Albuquerque, killed while she was in the car with her dad.

Lilly Garcia

He told us that once a Gold Star Mother called him to ask if she could come to lunch with him the next day. She had just received his portrait of her son.

“I suggested we meet at the Claim Jumper’s restaurant in the Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood (Washington). She didn’t know where that was, so I gave her directions. I finally asked where she was and she said, ‘Connecticut.’ It turned out she was flying in to SeaTac from Connecticut with the Brigade Commander’s wife.”

After our lunch, she told me, ‘When I looked into the eyes of my son [in the portrait], I knew you were the last person to see him alive.’

She had come to Seattle to say goodbye to her son.”

The amazing thing about Michael Reagan is that the portraits are provided to the families at no cost for conflicts in the war on terror. They are gifts from his heart to the families of the fallen, healing for both the Gold Star families and the artist.

In the 14 years since the beginning of the Fallen Heroes Project, he has drawn over 5,100 fallen hero portraits. Portraits of the fallen can be requested on the website, as well as donations to the project. His portraits have funded numerous charities across the country. Scroll through the gallery section to see some of the finished products.

Featured photo: screenshot

Originally published at Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children

long road home

The Long Road Home Miniseries – and the Real Battle Behind It

Army Infantry Squad Leader Joshua York was in Sadr City on April 4, 2004 when all hell broke loose. Comanche Red Platoon was with 2nd Battalion, 5th Calvary Regiment (2/5) – the unit ambushed by forces loyal to Shi’ite Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. “The Long Road Home ” is a miniseries that began on November 7 and is based on a book written by Martha Raddatz about the real battle for survival. The battle became known by some as “Black Sunday.”

The Reality of War

Joshua York began his 22 year military career in the US Marine Corps right out of high school. During his time as a Marine, he served during the US Embassy bombing in 1998. He eventually left the Corps as a Corporal.

Then he joined the US Army and was stationed at Fort Hood. After two years, the deployment to Iraq came. His experience as a Marine were skills needed… but he had no idea how needed they were about to become.

Starting off as an infantryman, the Army told him he’d be with “Bradleys” – Bradley M-2A3 Infantry Fighting Vehicles- on the deployment to Iraq. After figuring out what a “Bradley” was, he told us he was ready to test his skills.

“It was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission with nothing going on. I guess I was naive to think I was ready to test my skills. Hindsight is always 20/20.”

The 2/5 was the “second wave” – the replacement for another unit at Camp War Eagle outside the city. They had only been in Iraq since March, and assumed they had missed the fighting. They were wrong.

Countdown to Trouble

Josh told us that on Friday, April 2, the Army had shut down a newspaper loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr that was spouting anti-American rhetoric and advocating violence against the troops. They had moved their Bradley vehicles out to provide security for the operation.

By Saturday, the locals started massive demonstrations against the Americans. Palpable anger  had replaced the initial feelings of thankfulness for Americans liberating the city from Saddam Hussein. What the 2/5 did not know, was that the Mahdi Army loyal to al-Sadr had already seized key Iraqi police positions throughout the city.

“It was a weird feeling.”

Sunday, April 4  

Josh’s platoon was on a “routine” patrol, escorting “honey wagons.” As a squad leader, and due to some of their comms being down, he was working to get them up and running so was not with them at first.

“Suddenly they told me that my boys were in contact, so I gathered up the remaining platoon members and headed out to the fight.”

The “contact” was a bloody battle that ensued as 19 members of the 2/5 were surrounded and holed up in a house. At first, the 1st Cavalry Armored Division rescuers were unable to use their big guns due to the rules of engagement, and were pushed back by the attacks from the Mahdi Army that had taken over police positions. Eventually, the use of their firepower was granted when it became obvious they were all outnumbered.

“We all grew up very fast that day. The first man killed was a friend of mine, Sgt Chen. He babysat my son. He was in our platoon, but a different squad. All of us were very close- we’d been together for over 3 years. At the end of the day, we lost 8 men.”

The battle only began on April 4.  After 4 years of on-again, off-again battles with the Madhi Army, a cease-fire agreement was reached that allowed Iraqi forces to enter the Sadr City neighborhood.

“Sadr City was the biggest gunfight since the fall of Baghdad.” General Martin Dempsey


The Long Road Home is a miniseries on the National Geographic Channel that airs on Tuesday nights at 10 EST/9 CST. We asked Joshua if it was an accurate rendering of the battle – surprisingly, he said “Yes.” The book was written by Martha Raddatz, a reporter with ABC news and their Chief Global Affairs Correspondent, in 2008.

Joshua said he was fortunate to meet the actors involved in the show, and even the one who played his friend, Sgt Chen. He said it was “surreal” to watch The Long Road Home, and how realisticly the cast portrayed everyone.

“They got it right – regular guys from all walks of life were put into extraordinary situations. And they all ran toward the danger. They told our story well. For me, I have to thank the Marine Corps for the training they gave me that got me through it.” Josh York

York is currently a Captain with US Army Medical Activity Bavaria. He oversees 5 medical treatment facilities all over Germany, plus one in Romania.

Featured photo: Screenshot from NatGeo’s The Long Road Home on You Tube

Originally published at Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children.

military families

Remember Veterans, and Military Families on Veteran’s Day

One day my stepson Jerry dropped by to talk to his dad, mentioning that he wanted to join the Army National Guard to “do something bigger” than himself. He was slightly past the enlistment age, so he would have to get permission from the Army. His dad, having been in the Air Force, told him to do what he felt was right. All of us knew that there was a war going on. We were about to embark on the journey of military families.

The Army National gave permission for him to enlist – they needed people with his computer skills.  He was off and running. Lots of running.

From Basic training to Officer Candidate school, Jerry worked his way up to 1st Lieutenant. We traveled to both his graduation from Basic and OCS at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. His daughter Maddie desperately missed him for all those long weeks, but she toughed it out.

In 2010, his unit was called up for deployment to Iraq for Operation New Dawn… and the worries cranked up to high. He would be gone for 12 months.  TWELVE. His wife Mindy is a “military brat” so she didn’t freak out… she was an absolute rock. At least it seemed that way. She did worry like the rest of us, it just didn’t show too much.

The rest of us only semi-panicked. The Army did an “orientation” to tell us what we could talk about and what we couldn’t to keep the team safe.

Watching him leave on the bus with the rest of them caused a huge lump in our throats. It could easily have been the last time we’d see him alive.

His deployment was with the 145th Brigade Support Battalion, part of “Task Force Snake” – which was part of the larger 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team (AKA the Snake River Brigade).

116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team
We SKYPED, we wrote, and we sent care packages. We tried to keep the letters light. Some of the care packages thing was more for our benefit than his – it kept our brains engaged so our emotions wouldn’t mess up. We just wanted to do SOMETHING to help. He had plenty of stuff. Including sand. Lots of sand.

He was in a “relatively safe” area (so they said), the infamous “green zone” and inside most of the time. But one member of the 145th was severely injured from an IED while on patrol outside that zone. We consoled ourselves with the thought that Jerry was inside out of harm’s way. Except for the IEDs. And mortars. And snipers. And attacks. We prayed a lot.

He returned home none the worse for wear in September of 2011 (with a little heightened awareness issue, but that’s pretty normal from waiting for attacks 24/7). We planned a big get-together with numerous inch thick steaks for the whole family. Of course, I ended up in the hospital with a brain bleed that day, so they got all the meat and I missed the welcome home party.

Jerry’s Captain pinning

Some time after he returned, he was pinned as a Captain. He’s out now, back in the civilian world. But he’s still a veteran. And we will always be proud of his service and his life, as we are for both the ‘kids’ and their families. Yeah I know, they haven’t been “kids” for a long time.

Veteran’s Day – Remember military families

For our veterans, family is their most important support group. We were fortunate that nothing happened to Jerry during his deployment. Others are not as lucky- death can happen at any time, wherever in the world they might be. Horrific injuries, PTSD, difficulties happen…and no matter what, it’s our job to support them before, during, and after their time of service.

Families of military members also sacrifice when their loved ones are away. We had it easy, as much energy that was expended on concerns. Whether it’s a Blue Star family with a service member deployed, or a Gold Star family that has lost a loved one, today on Veteran’s Day let’s remember them too.


For Marines:

You can read about Marine Ross Schellhaas’ family, written by his wife, Kristine Schellhaas. It’s entitled 15 Years of War, about how the long war in Afghanistan affected the family. It’s worth reading! Get tissues, however. Note: Kristine is the original founder of USMCLife news.