“Purple Heart” Ceremony Paves the Way for Finally Recognizing Veterans

Local Event Capped by Special Speakers/Presentations and Tales of Heroic Bravery

Trevor Phipps


The purpose of the “Purple Heart” Trail System is to recognize those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

In the past, only a handful of cities in Colorado received the “Purple Heart” designation. But this scenario has drastically changed in the last year, with an active campaign launched by local veterans to add Teller County to the list.


As a result, Purple Heart Trail signs are starting to permeate the entire Ute Pass region, with leaders from Teller County, Woodland Park, Cripple Creek and Victor all voting to become official Purple Heart cities. Now, a number of local businesses are getting involved in the campaign.

Recently, the Charis Bible College joined Woodland Park’s Walmart on the list of businesses joining the cause and proudly sporting the signs.

Special Purple Heart Ceremony

On May 16, the Charis Bible College held a special invite-only ceremony to officially receive the Purple Heart Trail sign. The event included speeches from Charis Bible College founder Andrew Wommack, former Woodland Park City Councilman Frank Connors, and three local Purple Heart recipients and Vietnam veterans.


“It’s an honor to honor all of the Purple Heart recipients,” Wommack said to start the ceremony. “When I was in Vietnam, I was a chaplain’s assistant which is not a combat position. But nonetheless I spent 13 months there and a lot of my friends got shot.”

Connors, a retired Navy Seal, who served on the WP council, gave a detailed history of the Purple Heart tradition and the latest efforts to add Teller County to the Purple Heart Trails system. He told the story of an original award given out by President George Washington after the Revolutionary War and how the award was brought back and given its current name by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur in 1932.


“The Purple Heart is the oldest military award in the United States,” Connors said. “Primarily the criteria for the Purple Heart included a wound which necessitates treatment by a medical officer and which is received in action with an enemy of the United States or as a result or an act of such enemy.”


The award then changed to being awarded to family members of people who had died in war in the 1940s. Since the award came back, there have been over two million Purple Hearts issued with more than 400,000 being given posthumously.


Connors then gave the floor to John Bartlett who has led the charge to get the Purple Heart Trail designations in Teller County. Bartlett had just been released from the hospital the day before the ceremony after suffering from pneumonia.

“It became necessary to step up and say something because of the state of our nation,” Bartlett said. “I think what has happened is that we have forgotten that the Purple Heart is the price we pay for our freedoms.”


Bartlett said that the purpose of the Purple Heart Trail is to remind people driving by of the sacrifice that many have given to fight for the country. “We need to step forward in what our duty is: To defend the nation with our words and our actions,” Bartlett added.


Former U.S. Army Green Beret Keith McKim then told the crowd that all three of the Vietnam veterans present at the ceremony were members of the Special Operations Group (SOG) that operated undercover behind enemy lines. “We had over 100 percent casualties,” McKim said. “How do you get over 100 percent casualties? Most of us were wounded at least once. We would heal and then go back in again and often times get killed or wounded again. 50 percent of the SOG were killed and the rest were wounded at least once.”

Don “Gunny” Bartron then unveiled some war stories of his own. “I turned 19 in Vietnam,” Bartron said. “I got wounded the second time on my 20th birthday. I was wounded three more times. My fifth wound was my third Purple Heart and they sent me home. They couldn’t use me any more I had to get fixed.”


Bartron continued to tell stories of how a fellow soldier died in his arms and gave him a special message to send to the world once he returned: “When you get back, remind people to live not just exist, make the best of what you have.”


At the end of the ceremony, Andrew Wommack officially received the sign which will be installed at the bible college entrance. “We have 10,000 or more people that come through here per year and they will all get to see this sign right as they come in,” Wommack said. “Thank you all for everything you have done and for putting your lives on the line. My time over in Vietnam was nothing like yours, my biggest fight was with rats and cockroaches. But we honor you so much.”


The ceremony ended with refreshments and a chance for the veterans to socialize. The ceremony participants were then invited on a special tour of the Charis Bible College’s new student housing, scheduled to open in a few months (see related story).