ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 11 (UPI) — The family of a U.S. soldier slain in Iraq said they were finally able to bring the dog he befriended in Samara to visit his Arlington National Cemetery grave.
Mitchel and Rhonda Rollins, whose son, Justin, 23, was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb on March 2, 2007, said they knew after seeing pictures from the previous day of their son playing with weeks-old puppies next to a Samara police station they wanted to bring one of the dogs home to New Hampshire, The Washington Post reported Monday.
“I felt that if I could hold one of the puppies that he had held, it would bring a little bit of him back to me,” Rhonda Rollins said.
Brittney Murray, Justin’s girlfriend, led the effort to bring one of the dogs to the United States. She said she received several rejections from Army officials before enlisting the help of Rep. Paul W. Hodes, D-N.H., who helped the family find veterinarians in Baghdad to give the dog shots and a travel certificate.
“We looked at the photos and looked at the marking until we were sure we got the right one,” said Jason Wheeler, a close friend of Rollins in the 82nd Airborne.
The dog, who was dubbed Hero, was flown to New Hampshire by the DHL delivery company.
The Rollins family said they had made yearly trips to visit Justin’s grave in Arlington around his Nov. 10 birthday, but they were unable to bring Hero until Animal Planet producers offered to fly the family, Murray and Hero to Virginia to film a segment for a program about pets that have helped owners through difficult times.
“I feel like we’re all together here,” Rhonda Rollins said at her son’s grave.