By Sabrina Bates
A group of local business owners and community members have rallied around a cause that gives combat veterans a reprieve from daily life. Darkhorse Lodge, located in Springville, was created after Gretchen and Kirk Catherwood lost their son, Lance Corp. Alec Catherwood, who was killed by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan while serving in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. The Regiment was named Darkhorse Unit. There were 25 Marines who lost their lives on Oct. 14, 2010.
In 2012, the Catherwoods broke ground on the Darkhorse Lodge, a retreat for combat veterans nestled in the woods with a handful of cabins and activities designed to bring together those with similar experiences in a place where they can connect with nature and one another.
“I’ve always had a love for veterans. Our friend, Brad Rich, is a veteran. I’ve been wanting to have a benefit for two years and it just never worked out,” Squatch BBQ and Catering owner, Jason Foust of Martin, shared. This weekend he will see that dream become a reality as he and his friends are prepping for a bash benefiting the Darkhorse Lodge. Foust, and his friends, Michael and Mavri Worrell of Martin, along with combat veteran Brad Rich of Dresden, are hosting an outdoor get-together and concert event on Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m. at 748 Gardner Hyndsver Rd. in Martin.
Taking the stage is a northwest Tennessee band, The Country Renegades. Vince’s Karaoke will also be on the scene. This is a family-friendly event. On the grounds will be bounce-house inflatables and plenty of food, one of Foust’s specialties. Dinner plates of barbecue, barbecue chicken, potato salad and baked beans will be available. Law enforcement personnel can eat for free and to-go plates will be offered to the public.
Admission to the Darkhorse Charity Bash is a suggested donation of $10. Parking is available across the street at Midway Wholesale Florist after the owners graciously lended their paved parking lot. While there will be water available, guests are encouraged to bring their own beverages, along with lawn chairs and blankets.
Jeff Walters, owner of the Hawk’s Nest in Martin and JW Brewskies in Gleason, has donated the stage and use of the bounce houses. Brandi Cantrell of Honeysuckle Hill Designs donated a handful of T-shirts bearing the first annual Darkhouse Lodge Benefit Bash. T-shirts are available for $20 each. Guests can be a part of a 50/50 drawing that will be held Sunday night as well.
The Worrells, Foust and Rich, invite community members to be a part of this cause that is near and dear to their hearts. One-hundred percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Darkhorse Lodge, where the group hopes to present a check to the Catherwoods at the grand opening event planned for later this month. Visit the “Darkhorse Charity Bash” event page on Facebook.
Marine’s memory kept alive through NWTN combat veterans retreat
Grand opening of Darkhorse Lodge set for Sept. 23
By Shannon Taylor
Deep in the heart of Springville, Tennessee, 20 minutes outside of Paris on Swor Road, takes you to a gravel driveway leading to a secluded retreat for combat veterans.
Five cabins connected by ramps silhouette the stunning landscape — a retreat for combat veterans to get away from the outside world and relax — whether that be fishing, hunting or just to find and make connections with others. Gretchen and Kirk Catherwood are the co-founders of Darkhorse Lodge and Kirk, an Operation Desert Storm Veteran, designed and implemented the wheelchair lift on the property.
The couple proposed the idea 11 years ago in 2012 after the loss of their son, Lance Corporal Alec Catherwood, who was killed by Taliban fighters while serving in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, based in Ft. Pendleton, California. Their son’s group was aptly named, “the Darkhorse Unit.”
Alec was one of 25 Marines killed in Afghanistan on Oct. 14, 2010, on a mission to rescue another squad under enemy fire. Gretchen said that their son died exactly how he lived: protecting those he cared for. Gretchen said their sons and the others lost were their inspiration for the Lodge and they spent the last decade creating a place for combat veterans to relax, connect and share stories.
After losing their son, the Catherwoods questioned their purpose, stating, “It felt like the world had ended for us. Nobody should go through this. No one. We’re not meant to bury our siblings; we’re not meant to bury our children.”
They later found their purpose in the creation of the Lodge, a 501c3 non-profit that receives no public funding, that will be free of charge to veterans and their families/caregivers one week a year, four times a year. Gretchen stated, “Finding my new purpose in life has given me a reason to get up each morning and face the challenges ahead.”
The network of veterans the Catherwoods have built over the years have contributed to the building of the Lodge for the last 11 years. The Lodge provides not only a sense of community for veterans and their caregivers, but also emotional support. Gretchen said she noticed when attending remembrance and memorial ceremonies that many combat veterans would say, “That’s the first time I was able to talk about that … .” Gretchen said she thought to herself that of course they were able to talk about it — they were around other combat veterans — and that’s exactly what she hopes this Lodge helps with. To help combat veterans speak freely about their experiences and to create a sense of, not only community and communication, but safety as well.
Each cabin can house up to five veterans at a time, encouraging friendship and a sense of community. Each of the five rooms in the cabins have been aptly named after the 25 Marines whose lives were lost in the Darkhorse Unit. Gretchen said the Lodge is not just for Marines. “It’s for all combat veterans — men and women from all different branches of service and from any war or conflict.”
“We’re losing 22 veteran’s a day to suicide and nothing about that is okay with me, so our goal is to help bring that number down as much as possible, even if it’s by one it’s worth it,” Gretchen emphasized.
The Lodge will have its grand opening Sept. 23 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a ribbon cutting, followed by live music, a pig roast, beverages, snacks and a tour of the facility. A group of Weakley Countians have rallied around the cause and planned a fundraising event where 100 percent of the proceeds go straight to the Lodge project.
The Lodge has an online reservation system on its website, www.darkhorselodge.org. Retreats for 2023 begin Sept. 26 and run through October, Tuesday-Saturday. Retreats will not run from November-January but will begin again in February 2024. The website does not allow a zero-dollar cost to be entered so $1.00 per night will be charged but Gretchen said that the money will be reimbursed. All relevant information can be found on the website and programs will be updated and announced as they are learned. So far hunting, fishing, meat smoking, couples’ weeks, non-combat service veterans’ weeks and even beekeeping are possible options.
“This is too hard — next to burying my son this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but then you wake up the next day and you’re like okay here we go. I don’t honor Alec by giving up,” Gretchen said.