By Kay Braddock
Although they’re in place to serve as safety reminders to motorists, the 12-by-16-inch white crosses dotting portions of Montana’s state and federal highways, often times provide much more to those families who have lost loved ones to traffic accidents.
“It does give the families some relief,” acknowledged Joe Dalbec, Sergeant of Arms of Miles City’s American Legion Post #5.
Dolbec, a retired Montana state highway patrolman, said he recently began a concerted effort to restore the American Legion White Marker Program in Custer County.
“The program had kind of fallen by the waist-side,” Dolbec said, explaining each American Legion Post is responsible for their individual county.
When he and other Legion members were placing markers along the Baker highway, they realized they were missing markers where known fatalities had occurred. That led him to contact state officials requesting the needed information to place the markers. Although the statewide program had been in place since 1952, Dolbec said officials were reluctant to provide any information on the traffic accidents due to privacy laws. With the help of Rep. Bill McChesney, D-Miles City and others, Dolbec said the state agreed to release the needed information.
Only the date, location, number of fatalities and direction of travel are provided, Dolbec said, to ensure privacy. Legion members do not contact families before placing the crosses. Families can choose not to have the makers placed.
The 4-inch metal markers are painted white, attached to red posts and sit about four to five feet above the ground. American Legion member Floyd Eaheart is credited with starting the marker program after six lives were lost in traffic accidents in the Missoula area over the 1952 Labor Day weekend.
Although decorations are discouraged, some markers have been adorned with wreaths and flowers by loved ones.
The markers are intended to serve more as safety reminders than a memorial, Dalbec said.
“It’s a warning,” Dolbec explained. “That there’s been an accident there.” Adding, “At least you’ll be cautious … for a few miles.”
It is estimated that over 2,000 markers have been erected since the program’s inception, according to the American Legion Web site.
Published May 20, 2009