Gold Star Parents Look to Honor Vets With Healing Retreat

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Moving forward and healing from grief is a tricky thing that doesn’t look the same way for everyone. But for Gretchen and Kirk Catherwood, whose son died in Afghanistan, healing themselves means helping others do the same. And they need your help.

I first met Gretchen among the boots memorial here at Fort Campbell, Ky. The volunteers (with your help) collected nearly 7,000 boots, one for every service member killed since 9/11, including Gretchen’s son Alec, a Lance Cpl. in the Marine Corps. Alec Catherwood was only 19-years-old when he was killed in action in 2010 —  almost a child. But there he was, smirking in a photo among the rows and rows of boots on the lawn in front of the 101st Division Headquarters.

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I first spotted Gretchen winding her way through the boot display with a camera. Every now and then she stooped down and took a photo of a boot — all men in her son’s unit who were also killed in combat, she told me. Their friends left behind need a place to go and heal. Combat vets, she said, need a place to retreat to each other about their experiences and help each other move forward.

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That’s why she and her husband, Kirk, are starting the Darkhorse Lodge — named after her son’s unit, Camp Pendleton’s 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment “Darkhorse.” Her son was one of 25 Marines killed during their 2010 to 2011 tour in Afghanistan.

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“After realizing that we had no choice but to go on, I stayed up nights, wondering what I could do for those who did come home,” Gretchen wrote on her website about the lodge project. “Once I had the basics down, my very smart husband added some much needed improvements to the plan. Finding my new purpose in life has given me a reason to get up each morning and face the challenges ahead.”

The plan is this: build a retreat lodge near gorgeous Kentucky Lake, Ky. with five, five bedroom cabins, a community shower house and a dining facility where veterans can go to relax and nature and heal with each other. They’ll have horses, boats and fishing gear. For five days each, combat veterans can use the space to sit back and move away from their pain.

But to do it they need money — and plenty of it. Building a retreat is pricey, and while they already own the land, all of the buildings have yet to be constructed.

You can help them build their retreat and help combat veterans a few ways. Visit and “like” their Facebook page. Tell others about their project to honor their son and his buddies who didn’t come home. And, if you can, donate.

Donate here.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • zedvector

    Great subject for an article Amy, donation made! I would love to see this post encourage many of your readers to pitch in for this worthy cause of these amazing Gold Star parents. People often feel that if they cant give hundreds or thousands, donating small a amount is worthless. From experience, I can ensure that every single penny will help this Gold Star team realize this dream. I hope you started something that launches generous giving into the holiday season! A+++

    • Kirk Catherwood

      Thank you SO much for your involvement, and compassion. And you are absolutely correct, every dime will help. We started out thinking we needed a big name, but now realize the blue collar folks will probably do most the work. I would LOVE to have someone prove me wrong. Actually, we need building materials….then we don’t have to raise as much money. Being a registered 501c3, its easy! Again, THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMPASSION…it’s what gets us through to help the returning American heroes!

  • Cindi

    My son served with Alec and we have become very good friends, family with the Catherwoods. They really need help getting this project to be come a dream come true. If you can help in anyway or know of a company that could make a donation.

  • Maura

    This is such a great article! Gretchen is working tirelessly toward her Goal of bringing the Darkhorse Lodge to our Veterans. With the staggering rates of veteran suicide and PTSD we ALL need to do what we can to help these guys out! I am a proud supporter of Gretchen and the Lodge, and a proud MoM of a Cpl currently serving as a Darkhorse Marine (3/5 battalion). Ooh rah, get some, Semper Fi and God Bless. Every donation puts the Lodge closer to completion.

  • Kirk C

    Thanks to Ms. Amy for such a great article, Ms. Gretchen for keeping me going and inspiring me to do something for our returning heroes, and all the people like Ms. Cindi who help us TIRELESSLY.