That Others May Live Free

Peaceful Retreat for Combat Veterans

This Coffee Tale is longer than most, recognizing the importance of the Darkhorse Lodge project.

Operation Enduring Freedom began October 7, 2001, in response to the September 11 attacks. It started with air strikes in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban and expanded to other countries. OEF officially ended 13 years later, though operations in Afghanistan continue under the name Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

From September 2010 through April 2011, the Darkhorse Battalion – 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, U.S. Marine Corps, the “3/5” – was deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom. During those 7 months, Darkhorse suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit in that war. 25 Marines lost their lives and 200 were wounded. 36 of the wounded lost limbs.

For the families and friends of these 200, as for all 1,000 Marines of the 3/5, remembering and living on is tough. Gretchen and Kirk Catherwood decided to deal with their grief after the death of their son, Lance Corporal Alec E. Catherwood, and Darkhorse Lodge was born.

Retreat Center in Tennessee

“Darkhorse Lodge is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, next to giving birth to my children. Next to burying my son, it’s also the hardest,” says Gretchen, matter-of-factly.

The Lodge is a roomy plot of land on which five cabins and supporting buildings will offer “a place of refuge and retreat for combat veterans of all military branches.” Guests will be able to rest and relax in the company of others who have walked in their boots. Until the center is fully up and running, its web page records progress toward completion and honors the memory of the Darkhorse 25.

At you can read stories about the 25 who died in Afghanistan, browse the gallery of photos and articles recording the progress of building the facility, and become involved in completing this outstanding project. There is so much to be done at Darkhorse Lodge, both during its building phase and after it welcomes veterans.

Two Men of the Darkhorse Battalion

Lance Corporal Alec Catherwood was killed in Afghanistan on October 14, 2010. He went back out on patrol right after returning from a 24-hour stint, an action that doesn’t surprise his family or friends. A group of Marines had come under fire and needed assistance.

As Lance Corporal Clancy Cheek tells it, Alec turned to him and said, “See you on the other side.” Catherwood and another in his squad were killed by small-arms fire. A third member of the squad was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated.

Only 19, the rifleman from Byron, Illinois was deployed for the first time. His military awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Korean Defense Service Medal.

See the tribute to Alec Catherwood, “Pendleton Marine Pays Tribute to Brother-in-arms,” by Clancy Cheek, who carried Alec to the evacuation helicopter.

Sergeant Matthew Abbate, killed in action at the age of 26 on December 12, 2010, served in Iraq, Japan, and Afghanistan. He was awarded the Navy Cross – the nation’s second highest medal for valor in action – in addition to a long list of other medals that consistently recognize his leadership and total commitment to his fellow soldiers and their mission.

In one blazing display of heroism, Matt led his squad, under heavy fire, through a minefield. Two Marines and a corpsman were injured. He then directed squad members to fire at the insurgents while he administered aid to casualties, secured a landing zone, and kept the enemy at bay. He held down the landing zone with a machine gun while a helicopter evacuated the injured.

“This is a story I can tell over and over again,” said Capt. Nickoli Johnson, Abbate’s commander. “Sgt. Abbate was a lion on the battlefield. Wherever he was, he brought the Marines up. I will always remember his sense of humor, his smile and his inquisitive mind.”

Coming Home

Returning from war, with or without visible battle wounds, is an arduous, extended process. Read Logan S. Stark’s “When Combat Ends, A New Battle Begins” and watch his documentary, “For the 25,” to understand a little more. In Stark’s words, “It’s difficult to go from being in a high-risk, threatening environment to sitting in a classroom, staring out a window, surrounded by 18- and 19-year-olds. When I look back on that period in my life, having left my brothers, I call those days ‘the dark times.’

“There’s no easy solution. You have to figure out how to live again.”

Darkhorse 25 at Holler Roast Coffee: Brazil Organic

Most of us love coffee from Brazil: it’s a full-flavored cup of chocolaty brew without acidity. The beans are grown organically and aged skillfully, delivering deep, creamy body in every cup. The Tactical Redneck – it’s his signature mugful – recommends you request the extra-dark roast.

We thank the men of the Darkhorse regiment for their service and sacrifice, and Darkhorse Lodge for help writing this Coffee Tale. You can support Darkhorse lodge directly with donations of money and work, and indirectly by enjoying Holler Roast’s Darkhorse 25 coffee. Every pound you buy sends a $5 donation to Darkhorse Lodge, where combat veterans can relax and recreate with others who have walked in their boots.


Darkhorse Lodge
1951 Swor Rd
Springville, TN 38256


Parents of Byron Marine killed in Afghanistan look to start veteran retreat center in Tennessee,” Rockford Register Star

An Afghan Hell on Earth for Darkhorse Marines,” National Public Radio, All Things Considered

Logan Stark

For the 25
When Combat Ends, a New Battle Begins,” On Patrol
Stark on YouTube