The Fallen Hero Portrait Project

When Joe Colgan and Michael Reagan first met, they felt an immediate connection.

"He and I instantaneously became brothers," Reagan said.

"In five to 10 minutes, I felt pretty close to the guy," Colgan agreed.

The bond between Colgan and Reagan seems surprising at first, given that on the surface, the two have little in common.

Reagan, a 60-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he hates war but believes the war in Iraq is necessary. Colgan, 66, is an outspoken anti-war activist who spends every Tuesday marching in front of the federal building in downtown Seattle, in vocal protest of the war that claimed the life of his son Ben.

It was Ben, in fact, who brought the two together.


Lt. Ben Colgan, 30, was killed in Baghdad in November 2003, an event that devastated his father. In the spring of 2004, as he tried to deal with his grief, Joe Colgan listened to a friend's suggestion and sought out Reagan, a professional painter who had just begun a project to paint portraits of the fallen soldiers.

'Bring Some Part of Them Home'

Just a few days later, Colgan went to Reagan's house to pick up the portrait of his son. He was blown away by how powerful the image was, and how strongly he felt the presence of the fallen lieutenant there in the room with them.

"I told him right then that I really felt that Ben wanted me to know Mike," said Colgan.

Colgan and his wife, Pat, are just one of the 1,200 families to experience Reagan's gift. Reagan began drawing these portraits four years ago, and now does at least two a day. He does each pencil-drawn portrait for free and only by request, and has dedicated his days to making sure he can memorialize as many soldiers as possible.

The project is an expensive one and Reagan has largely done it out of his own pocket, though recently he has been receiving donated materials from Staedtler Pencil Company and Crescent Board.

As word of his work travels the country, the requests pour in from families who have lost their loved ones in the war, and the connections Reagan makes with each family last long after the portrait is completed.

"I will never forget their lost loved one," said Reagan. "And I am doing my best with these portraits to bring some part of them home."

Reagan is just now dealing with his own issues, long buried from his service in Vietnam.

"I thought everything was going perfect until about four years ago when I started this project," he said. "And this little door in my heart opened up and there was a place inside that I hadn't been in a long time."

Reagan has found that painting these portraits offers some comfort.

"I was able to do what all Vietnam veterans ask themselves: 'Did we do all we could when we were there to bring as many home as we could?'" he said. "We will never be able to answer that question. But what I am trying to do, in my way, is I'm giving the families something to reconnect to."

'I Just Feel at Peace'

For Colgan, and for dozens of families that spoke to ABC News about the portraits of their children, Reagan's work serves a therapeutic purpose.

"I just feel at peace when I see that picture," Colgan said. "I can just talk to him like I talked to him anytime. That's a tremendous gift, you know, when you receive something like that."

And Ben Colgan has brought two different people together in a way they hope other Americans can emulate.

"He represents a bond between two people with some different views, for a common good," Reagan said. "Joe and I have dialogue, dialogue with respect. I think if the country could have the dialogue that Joe and I have, the country could heal, the country could learn."

To learn more about the Fallen Hero Portrait Project, visit Michael Reagan's web site here: