There is a man I know, a Vietnam combat veteran, a member of my VFW Post 8870 in Edmonds, WA, a Marine, and a friend. He is one of the most generous people I know, and what he does for our fallen military and their Gold Star Families is a gift of truly generous proportions. The other man involved in this story is equally generous of his time and treasure in his care for a brother Marine and fellow veteran.
But the centerpiece of this story is the Marine who fell in Vietnam in 1966, Bruce Griffin, who these two men helped to bring home again to his sister in a powerful and unique way.
This is a story that veterans of every service can relate to, especially those who went through combat together. It is about a young man, a teenager really, a Marine who went to Vietnam in 1966 and who was killed in action only nine days into his tour.
A loss like this is felt and remembered by two very different, yet intimately personal communities—the Gold Star Family of the fallen and those brothers from his unit who, though they only knew him for nine days, knew him as a brother-in-arms and were caught up in the hell of war together with him. Neither of these communities can forget their fallen brother and family member, nor do they want to.
But there are kinds of love and generosity that transcend the deep, painful, personal loss of those two communities too. That love comes out in different ways but is always rooted in the common bond and duties that we have to care for others. This is the kind of love that drives Micheal Reagan, the artist who produced the portrait that is being delivered in this video to the sister of the fallen Marine, Bruce Griffin.
You see, Reagan is a Marine and a combat veteran of Vietnam, just as Burce Griffin was. I have told his story here for the Veterans Site before, and it is one of uncommon gratitude, love, and generosity for all who have fallen while serving in uniform in our country’s military. He has done over 7,500 portraits of the fallen to date, and every one of them has been drawn and framed and delivered by mail to the Gold Star Families of the fallen free of charge. Reagan was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal a couple of years ago in recognition of his work on behalf of the fallen and Gold Star Families.
Tennis De Jong is the other Marine you will see in this video. He is a friend of Michael Reagan, and he sometimes joins Reagan on his daily five-mile walks from his house to the Edmonds Veterans Memorial in downtown Edmonds, WA. De Jong had met Bruce Griffin’s sister, Linda, while on a trip recently, and in the course of their conversation, she told him of the loss of her brother Bruce 55 years ago in Vietnam and that she really missed him and thinks about him every day.
De Jong asked her if she had a portrait of her brother. She didn’t. De Jong told her he knew somebody that could rectify that for her. De Jong contacted Reagan and made arrangements to get a photo from Linda Griffin that Reagan could do a portrait from. Long story short, Reagan completed the portrait you will see here in this video, and De Jong decided to deliver it to Linda Griffin at her home in Ohio personally.
As you will see, he boarded a plane at SeaTac airport in Seattle with the portrait, dressed in his class A Marine Corps dress blues. When he arrived in Ohio, he and Linda Griffin went to the gravesite where Bruce Griffin rests and laid a wreath on his grave, then they went to the Griffin home, where he delivered and presented the portrait to the young man’s sister.
It was an emotional moment for Linda Griffiths, she said. “It was the most overwhelming and heartfelt feeling I had. It was like he was actually looking at me.”
When Reagan does these portraits, he really focuses on the eyes. This kind of reaction to his portraits has been repeated many times over the years that he has been drawing these portraits for his Fallen Heroes Project. De Jong chose to deliver the portrait personally to Linda Griffiths out of his own generosity of spirit and his Marine sense of brotherhood to another Marine, even though he had never met Bruce Griffin.
Since then, he has told Reagan that he would be happy to personally deliver other portraits and he will actually be doing so for two more families in the near future. Linda Griffin said of De Jong, “Tennis is one in a million. The quality of his integrity is overwhelming.” The Veterans Site agrees. De Jong simply says: “I think it’s important that we remember these people, and this is what Marines do.”
There is a kind of brotherhood, a kind of love, that goes above and beyond the daily realities of life. Suffering is a universal reality. The kind of suffering associated with the loss of a loved one to the distant violence of war is beyond the speaking of it. The holes left in families can never be filled, but the sharp edges of pain can be softened, smoothed a bit generous acts of love.
These two men, Michael Reagan and Tennis De Jong, are moved by that generous desire to help the Gold Star Families in whatever way they can. In doing so, they not only give those families a precious gift of memory, but they honor the fallen who they take home again to those families. Reagan and De Jong make the Marine motto a living reality for those Gold Star Families. They really are Semper Fidelis and Fratres Aeterni. Oorah!