Southern Teller County Celebrates Veterans Day in Style

Return of Popular  Assembly Greeted with Open Arms

Rick Langenberg

“Coach Sam” would have been proud.

In the area’s first  Veterans Day celebration in two years, and in a partial tribute to former Cripple Creek/Victor High School legendary football coach Mark Sampson, known affectionally as “Coach Sam,” the RE-1 District hosted a unique and folksy Nov. 11 Assembly with one overriding message:  You can serve your country, even if you are not a veteran. Just get involved.

The highly-publicized celebration played before a packed house in the Cripple Creek/Victor Gymnasium and conjured up memories of the heroics of Abraham Lincoln and his famed Gettysburg Address; the thousands of women who helped the armed services in a variety of manners; real-life, bloody battles in Viet Nam, often shielded from the media; and a moment of silence in memory of the ending of World War !.

The southern Teller Veterans Day gathering, one of several tributes in the area on Nov. 11, was mostly organized by Annie Durham, a CTE coordinator with the RE-1 District.  Durham  admits she was inspired by Coach Sam, who often did the legwork for these events in the past. “It was my turn,” said Durham, who has been a big supporter of  veteran-related events. Durham often attends local council meetings and hasn’t been shy about voicing support for veteran-related tributes and rallies.  “He (Coach Sam) inspired me in a  lot of ways. I know Coach Sam would have said, ‘Let’s get this (veterans’ assembly) party started,” she quipped.

This year’s gathering was especially important, as it marked the first time in two years, the RE-1 District could host such an event due to the pandemic. Plus, it was the first time, the district could have the event since the untimely death of Sampson in 2020. Sampson had an extensive stint coaching in Cripple Creek, Woodland Park and other districts in the Pikes Peak region

There was no lack of enthusiasm during the CC/V Veterans Day Assembly that also included the support of the American Legion Post 171.

The master of ceremonies was led by Teller County Assessor Colt Simmons, a former colonel with the United States Air Force who also sported an extensive career with such organizations as NORAD  He noted that through his military career, has spent time in more than 100 countries, and praised the virtues of the United States. “We are in a great country,” recounted Simmons. But at the same time, the U.S. is “not a perfect country,” added the assessor.

The Gettysburg Address Relived

Simmons gave an inspiring tribute to former President Abraham Lincoln, who he described as a moderate Republican.  “Lincoln believed in many things…He was for you and me,” said Simmons.

And in one the event’s more unique touches, Simmons surprised the participants  by having an elementary school student from the audience read the entire test of Gettysburg Address, word-for-word. This address is often described as the best concise American speech ever made on a battlefield.

At times, Simmons almost came to tears when describing the actions of Lincoln. He maintained that American would probably had a much different outcome, if it wasn’t for the heroics of Lincoln.

Other highlights of the CC/V Assembly included a detailed historic account of the role of women during 200-plus years of the nation’s conflicts by Shannon Taylor and Kathy Friel, members of the American Legion Post. They provided details often overlooked, including the involvement of 350,000 women during World War II. They noted that women can now become a key component of the military community and can assume command posts.

Another rousing talk occurred from decorated Green Beret veteran Keith McKim of Florissant, who recounted the heroics of special forces legend and Master Sergeant Roy Perez Benavidez. Benavidez performed valiant helicopter rescues of American soldiers in a fierce battle in Vietnam in 1968 that was kept secret for years. He suffered nearly 40 wounds from this conflict and eventually was given a Medal of Honor for his action, a conflict described as “Six Hours of Hell.”   Benavidez died in the late 1990s.  McKim, who does a variety of talks in the area, has vowed not to let the actions of Benavidez get buried.

Also, the ceremony featured a moment of silence, at the time when the Armistice Treaty was signed, marking the end of World War !.

Simmons concluded but telling students they can serve as veterans even, if they are not part of the military and aren’t thrust into a major conflict.  He touted the importance of volunteer service, and even cited serving on the city council as a veteran-like gesture.

The was just one of a spree of Veterans Day tributes in the area.

A highly-attended ceremony was held in at the Woodland Park High School and featured several key speakers. This is part of an annual tradition (see related photos by Cindy Valade).

A Veterans Day Dinner was also held at the Ute Pass Cultural Center in Woodland Park.