Planting markers to grow awareness
American Legion volunteers place and update Fatality Markers on Montana Highways
What started with a good idea and a handshake, has become as familiar on Montana roads as the cars themselves. The blank white road markers shaped like a cross have no words, pictures or arrows, but everyone knows its meaning; someone has parished on that section of road. What some may not know, is that it was the American Legion that placed them there.
The fatality markers are numerous enough to notice, but infrequent enough to make drivers pause. They usually bring to mind sorrow and sympathy, and hopefully caution as well. For over sixty-five years, these white crosses have reminded Montana motorists of the dangers of the road.
The Montana American Legion Highway Fatality Marker Program began in 1953. The idea of marking fatal traffic accident sites with a white cross came from Floyd Eaheart, a member of Hellgate Post #27 in Missoula after six lives were lost in that area over the 1952 Labor Day Holiday. It started out as a county then district project for the Missoula American Legion Post, but was soon adopted statewide. However, this safety program was not acknowledged in writing until a Letter of Instruction was signed by the then Director of MDT, David A. Galt on November 5, 2001.
American Legion members place the markers at the site of any fatal accident, unless requested otherwise by the family of the deceased. “Sometimes the family will not want one, then call years later as they have changed their mind,” Greg Harbac stated. He explained that often people need time before they can pass the marker and they honor the wishes either way. Harbac also explained that though these are not memorials, people will sometimes want to decorate them. This is understandable, but not recommended. Decorations, though honorable, could act as a distraction, which would defeat their true purpose.
After meeting with the gentlemen on the road side in Ennis, I was informed that a stranger bought them all lunch. A kind offering to those who covered over three-hundred miles that day. When asked what they wanted people to think when they saw the new markers that day, Lee Sargent smiled and said “Slow down and enjoy life.” Well said. Thank you, gentlemen.