BYRON, Ill. (WIFR) -- A local marine from Byron was killed in Afghanistan almost 8 years ago when he was 19-years-old. Family and friends of Lance Corporal Alec Catherwood are now building a project to try to lower the suicide rates of combat veterans when they return home.
"The military is losing combat veterans at 22 plus a day at the battle here back at home," said Jerry Oleson, a family friend of Alec’s and a Marine Corps veteran. Oleson’s goal is to lower that number. Alec's unit was known as 3/5 or Darkhorse Marines.
"They lost 25 marines in a short period of time, that's a big hit to any unit," said Oleson.
After noticing a change in combat veterans who returned home, Alec's mom Gretchen wanted to help.
“There are a lot of things that go on mentally and physically and they change, but she realized when they were together at these memorial services, while they were telling stories, they were healing each other,” said Oleson.
That sparked an idea for a combat veterans retreat called Darkhorse Lodge. It is being built in Henry County Tennessee where Gretchen lives. She asked Oleson to help with the project, dedicated to Alec.
"It’s our goal to have 5 cabins, each with 5 rooms, each room named after one of those marines that Alec had served with, and to serve combat veterans for a week, it's a free program. We want to get them out of that dark path that they might be traveling in," said Oleson.
At Darkhorse, veterans can hike, fish and boat to clear their minds.
“We want to let them know it’s okay to be themselves and bring the old them back out is what we want to do," said Oleson, who believes Alec would be thrilled with this project if he were here today.
"The Catherwood’s are just another example of taking such a tragedy and trying to turn it into a triumph to help others to see that there's always a light at the end of the tunnel," said Oleson.
Family and friends are working to raise $1.5 million for the project. They started an activity called Trek for Troops where a team walks 100 miles every year and raises money along the way.
To donate to the project or learn more information visit darkhorselodge.org.