01/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

One Christmas Later: Sgt. Neesley, Iraq -- and Saving the Dogs Of War

Sgt. Peter Neesley befriended some stray dogs in Baghdad during his tour in Iraq last year and hoped to bring them back to the U.S. But Sgt. Neesley, 28, never made it home.

Last year on Christmas Eve, I wrote about Neesley, who hailed from Michigan, after he was found dead in his bed in Iraq in an unexplained incident. My column and blog posting drew a wide and very moving response from his many friends and family. He seemed like an incredible fella.

Later, knowing his plans for the dogs, they decided to fulfill his wishes, and his dogs (a mother and her pups) arrived in this country in February after a herculean effort led by family members, with media outlets helping out, too. It drew national attention.

Now the Neesley family has sent me a note thanking everyone for their help, along with the swell photo of the haunted, but safe, dogs in the USA. I've also heard from the iraqi man who helped them over there -- he is now visiting Florida.

Below are two brief excepts from an AP story on the dog rescue from last February:

Growing up, Peter Neesley was an animal-lover who always took in strays around his Michigan home. So when his family heard that the Army sergeant was taking care of two dogs outside his Baghdad military base, no one was surprised.

In e-mails and phone calls from Iraq, Neesley talked about how he came across Mama, a black Labrador mix, and Boris, her white-and-brown spotted puppy, while on patrol in their Baghdad neighborhood.

One of Mama's puppies was later killed by a car, so Neesley and his friends built a doghouse to shelter the animals. Photographs show Neesley feeding the dogs and kneeling next to the red-and-white doghouse and Boris walking along the cracked sidewalks of Baghdad.

"He was determined. He had already been sending us e-mails about how when he came home in July, he was going to find a way to bring them with him," said his sister, Carey Neesley.

And this:

Mama and Boris arrived Friday afternoon at Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., home of Neesley's mother, capping a four-week transfer facilitated by family members, animal rights groups, media outlets and elected leaders.

The dogs were picked up in Baghdad this week by Rich Crook, a rapid response manager for the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society, which helped arrange the animals' transport after learning about them from media reports. Gryphon Holdings LLC, an American-owned airline with service to Iraq, agreed to fly the dogs from Baghdad to Kuwait City.

While Neesley's fellow soldiers cared for Mama and Boris, a veterinarian with the Iraqi Society for Animals vaccinated the dogs and arranged for the health certificates allowing them to travel to the United States.

"I think the animals are part of Peter now in the eyes of the family," Crook said as he drove along Interstate 70 south of Breezewood, Pa., while the dogs rested.

Greg Mitchell ( is editor. His book on Iraq and the media is titled, "So Wrong for So Long."