Edmonds artist and Vietnam Veteran Michael Reagan, who drew national acclaim for his portraits of fallen U.S. service members from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, continues to have an impact throughout the world. Reagan’s recently-completed portraits of fallen veterans in Poland inspired the creation of a remembrance day for those veterans, which was held in Warsaw on Sunday, Dec. 21.
According to Reagan, it all started when he was speaking to a group on the Eastside about his Fallen Heroes Project, and he mentioned that in addition to drawing U.S. soldiers, he had also sketched portraits of fallen heroes in Great Britain and Canada. One of those listening was Robert Michalak, a member of the Redmond Veterans of Foreign Wars post, who asked Reagan if he was interested in doing photos of Polish veterans. Reagan replied that he had reached out to the Polish government earlier but never heard back.
It turned out that Michalak’s sister is a doctor in the Polish Army and the rest, as they say, is history. The idea gained momentum in Poland, and Reagan told Michalak he would do the drawings under two conditions: “The original photos have to come from families of the soldiers and they have to be presented to the families in a dignified manner.” Once the Polish government gave its approval, Reagan waited for quite some time to receive the photos of the 66 fallen Polish soldiers: 44 in Afghanistan and 22 in Iraq. But eventually that request was fulfilled.
To meet Reagan’s second request, the Polish Ministry of National Defense created an annual “National Remembrance Day of Fallen Veterans.” The date chosen — Dec. 21 — comes from the deadliest day in the Polish Air Force in Afghanistan, on Dec. 21, 2011, when the country lost five soldiers at once.
In addition to creating the original portraits that were presented to families during the Dec. 21 Warsaw ceremony, duplicate copies of each drawing were made and framed; those 66 duplicate portraits will be hung in the Polish Veterans Museum in Warsaw. As always, Reagan doesn’t charge for his work (he’s supported through donations, grants and other fundraising), but he did receive deeply discounted frames from Hobby Lobby in Lynnwood, and the Polish Home in Seattle is working to defray costs of shipping the framed portraits to Poland.
Michalak traveled to Poland to attend the remembrance, as did other Polish officials from the U.S. Embassy who worked with Reagan on the project. Reagan said that he was so excited about Sunday’s event, that he couldn’t sleep the night before, and walked seven miles Saturday night. “It’s such a big deal,” he said. “They created a memorial day celebration because I had done the portraits.”
“Here in the United States, I’ve done over 4,400 portraits and families feel like someone cares about them,” he continued. “Today, all those Polish families have their portraits in their hands. And — I’m 99 percent sure of this — they are feeling how you’d feel when someone says they care about your family members.”
Earlier this year, Reagan received the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation’s “Citizens Service Before Self Honors” award, given to everyday citizens for courage, sacrifice, selflessness and patriotism.