Teller Gains Distinction as an Official “Purple Heart County”

Ceremonies Highlight Sacrifices and Heroics of Local Veterans

Trevor Phipps

Multiple signs that serve as a tribute to wounded veterans will soon permeate the Teller landscape and roadways.

In fact, Teller has now become an official “Purple Heart County,” a rare distinction in Colorado.

Just before Veterans Day, the Teller County commissioners held a special ceremony to offer respect to those who paid the ultimate price in defending our country. During the meeting, part of their regular session in Cripple Creek, a proclamation was made that gave Teller the designation of being a “Purple Heart County.”

During the meeting, emotions flared as two local Purple Heart veterans, John Bartlett and Keith McKim, gave a presentation to the crowd. The meeting occurred on a day when six inches of snow bombarded the area, but it did not keep a number of people from attending the ceremony to support the cause.


The two veterans talked about the time they served together in the Special Operations Group (SOG) during the early part of the Vietnam War. Both veterans were happy that the county decided to make the move to become the second Colorado county to receive the official Purple Heart designation.

New Purple Heart Signage to Infiltrate Teller

The designation means that people will now see Purple Heart County signs alongside Teller’s major highways and roadways. Teller joins Adams County as the only two counties in the state with this special designation.

This is part of a regional trend.

Earlier this year, Woodland Park also became a designated Purple Heart City. The City Above the Clouds joined Longmont, Brighton and Pueblo West as one of a handful of Colorado cities with the special Purple Heart designation.

According to the proclamation, Teller County chose to become part of the Purple Heart group due to its veteran-friendly demographics.  “Teller County has a large, highly decorated veteran population including many Purple Heart recipients and the people of Teller County have always supported our military veteran population,” the county commissioners’ proclamation stated. “The Board appreciates the sacrifices our Purple Heart recipients made in defending our freedoms and believe it is important that we acknowledge them for their courage and show them the honor and support they have earned.”

In another pro-veterans’ symbolic move, the board voted to establish Teller County as a part of the National Purple Heart Trail. The proclamation explained the trail as “a symbolic network of highways, bridges, and other monuments that display signs to commend veterans who have been awarded the Purple Heart Medal and to serve as a visual reminder to drivers using the roads that others have paid a high price for their freedom to travel and live in a free society.”

According to County Commissioner Dan Williams, a former combat veteran, who is associated with several local veteran organizations, being a part of the Purple Heart Trail System is a big move to show support for those killed or wounded while serving the country. “The first trail sign is actually outside of Mount Vernon because it was George Washington’s home and he was one of the first soldiers to receive the original Purple Heart,” Williams explained. “The trail runs across this country. It is not continuous like the Appalachian Trail, but it is getting there starting with a community, then the county, then the trail designation.”

According to Williams, one of the main reasons that Bartlett pushed to get the county designated as a Purple Heart County was due to the high number of veterans in the region, and some recent tragedies that have occurred. “What inspired him to ask for our support was that we had two veteran suicides in Florissant in the last couple of years,” Williams said. “And it really bothered him. It not only reminds us that freedom isn’t free, but it also reminds you that we should be looking after our veterans especially the ones that struggle from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).  That little sign says a lot without saying a whole lot.”

Purple Hearts are a special award given to those who made the ultimate sacrifice during wartime. The only people who have Purple Hearts are either people who were wounded in battle, or family members of those who lost their lives while at war.

According to Williams, there were 1.5 million Purple Hearts issued before World War II. After the war, only a half million were given out, leaving another million already made. As a result, veterans who now receive a Purple Heart are getting a medal made in 1940. This is another example of how rare and distinctive the award really is.

Following the commissioners meeting, the county celebrated Veterans Day with assemblies at local schools and a special holiday dinner at the Ute Pass Cultural Center. According to Williams, the dinner, which was free to all military veterans, had a record turnout. More than 318 veterans and their spouses showed up for the event.

Williams said that the events over the few days surrounding the veterans holiday struck his heart strings.  He stressed that this is a time when American lives are still being lost around the globe. “I was emotional recently because the Blackhawk that just crashed in the Mediterranean Sea supporting Israel and operations over there was piloted by the son of one of my good friends when I was a colonel (in the U.S. Army),” Williams said. “That hit me as well because my friend will now be receiving the Purple Heart for his son.”