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.
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.
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.
“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.