white cross mile marker

BOZEMAN- Montana is one of few states in the country that honors highway crash victims with a fatality marker at the site of the crash, according to the American Legion. It's a program with over 60 years of history in the Treasure State.

Since the 1950s, the American Legion of Montana has marked fatal traffic accident sites with the White Cross Highway Fatality Marker Program.

On a nice day in Montana, drivers on the highway in Gallatin County might pass by Greg Harbac and Laura Alley hard at work on the side of the road. The ex-Marines volunteer to place white markers at the site of deadly crashes in the Bozeman area.

The process isn't easy work and sometimes it takes the pair upwards of an hour to place one marker when weeds and overgrown bushes get in the way. Harbac says it also depends on if the soil accepts the steel post easily.

The program is sponsored by all 140 American Legion posts in the state of Montana. Post 14 in Gallatin County is responsible for maintaining and placing all the markers in the Gallatin Area.

Adjutant Randy Kemp said, "Our marker program is strictly for caution to alert people that there's a dangerous piece of highway that you're fixing to go to."

The program began in Montana in 1953 as one of the American Legions many ways of giving back to the Treasure State.

Kemp says today there are roughly 2,500 markers across the state.

Harbac is the Fatality Marker coordinator for Gallatin County.

"A little bit of American Legion pride," Harbac says. "We want to make sure the markers are clean, well kept, that they're not rusted and that involves a pretty heft maintenance effort."

Harbac has been placing the steel markers on highways for over a decade.

He says the comfort the markers provide the victim's family makes his hard work worth it. Harbac said, "They want to be able to have a place where they can grieve and sometimes that is exactly what those families are doing."

So far, more than 100 people have died in wrecks on Montana highway this year, which Legion members say is down from last year. Legion members say they hope people take a moment to slow down if they see a marker.

Alley says if the program saves just one or two lives, it's worth it.

Story updated Aug. 21 at 9:13 AM to reflect correct number of states with highway marker programs.

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