Alex Horton wants the celebration of veterans to be less about ostentation and more about listening to what they have gone through. One of his stories:
Rain had transformed Baghdad's many unpaved roads into one giant muddy sinkhole, and the engine of a Stryker vehicle moaned in a failed effort to escape. The vehicle sunk under the weight of its armor and required a tow. The driver and vehicle commander leapt to the ground to attach towing cables to the front, only to discover they weren't shin-deep in mud—they were stuck in an open sewer. One of them had to completely submerge himself to get to the tow hook. When it was over, both men were covered head to toe in jet-black ooze and sprayed down by a benevolent Iraqi in her courtyard. The worst part of that day? It was Christmas Eve, and surely one we'd remember.
The holiday muck fest is one of my favorite stories to tell civilians. Even though it's repulsive, it doesn't have an ounce of violence. No one had their limbs torn away from their bodies. No rendition of Taps swept over a memorial service to mingle with recollections of the dead. Everyone comes out okay in the end, albeit a bit filthy. My Christmas story humanizes my fellow soldiers in a way many of my other stories can't.
(Photo: Members of the military stand for the national anthem during a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery November 11, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia. President Obama delivered remarks at the cemetery amphitheater after laying the wreath. By Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.)