The American Legion of Montana
Chairman: John Kougioulis
April 10, 2015
To: Zone, District and Post Commanders
Subject: The American Legion White Marker Highway Fatality Program Annual Maintenance
With winter comes the use of harsh chemicals, salt and sand on our highways to keep travelers safe. The use of these products takes its toll on our White Markers.
It is time for us to schedule our annual White Marker maintenance, commonly known as our spring cleanup and painting. Various methods to accomplish this have emerged from different posts statewide. The most common method is to form a work party or parties, and select the day--frequently followed by a potluck get together. It is the Department’s desire to get this maintenance accomplished prior to Memorial Day.
This maintenance is vitally important because we cannot afford to discredit this most worthwhile program on a statewide basis. The majority of our posts work very hard to keep their White Markers clean and painted, and I salute them for their effort. Therefore, a few bad apples, so to speak, spoil this great effort. Please don’t let this happen to this great safety program that has distinguished itself and brought credit to the American Legion for the past 60 years.
If you have any questions, I refer you first to your Post Leadership and Planning Manual, page 32. Secondly, call me at 406-459-0286, and I will answer any questions you may have on the White Marker Program. Spring White Marker cleanup and maintenance is generally a good way to get a lot of Post members involved with your Post. Montana Department of Transportation wants anyoneworking on White Markers, whether it is cleanup or erecting new markers, to wear safety vests. If you have a Montana Highway Department office in your home town, they will lend you safety vests. Post Commanders can also contact your local TV, radio or newspaper and get some excellent PR.
I trust the Zone and District Commanders will make this one of your spring priorities as you visit Posts in your area of responsibility.
Recently there was an article in a rural magazine that put out considerable bad information on our American Legion White Marker Fatality Program, which was furnished by one of our post members. The magazine article said we should use reflective paint; this is a no no! Do NOT use reflective paint on the post or the cross. The Montana Department of Transportation specifically states in our agreement – no use of reflective paint. Prior to publishing any information of thiskind, please clear it with The American Legion, Department of Montana. As a minimum clear your article with the chair person responsible for that program. Do not use reflective paint on the post or the cross. Montana Department of Transportation specifically states in our agreement – no use of reflective paint.
Thanks to all for your support, and I look forward to seeing bright white markers on bright red posts throughout the state! Therefore, let these white markers remind each and every one of us to drive safely. Happy Trails!
Montana White Marker Chairman
They are numerous enough to notice, enfrequent enough to startle at seeing, and they stimulate reverence, sorrow, sympathy, curiosity and caution. They affect us all to one degree or another. They are the white crosses that mark the sites of fatal traffic accidents along the highways of Montana. For over 50 years, these white crosses have reminded passing motorists of the dangers of the road, as well as the lives that have been lost on these highways.
The Montana American Legion White Cross Highway Fatality Marker Program in 1953. The unique idea of marking fatal traffic accident sites with a white cross was the brainchild of Floyd Eaheart, a member of Hellgate Post #27 in Missoula after 6 lives were lost in that area over the 1952 Labor Day Holiday. The safety program started out as a county and later district project for the Missoula American Legion Post. However, the idea was so good that it was soon adopted as a statewide program. The Montana Highway Commission (now the D.O.T.) approved the program in January 1953 with the blessing of the then 13th governor of Montana, J. Hugo Aronson (the galloping Swede). E.A. "Gene" King from Livingston was the Department Commander at the time. Louis Babb was the Assistant Adjutant for the Department of Montana during this time and was instrumental in getting it started. He appeared before the Montana Highway Commission and convinced them to adopt the White Cross Safety Program. With this authorization, most of the 132 Montana American Legion Posts participated in the program. Floyd Earheart, the man who conceived the program, served s the state White Cross Chairman for the first several years.
However, this safety program was not acknowledged in writing until a Letter of Instruction was signed by the then Director of MDOT, David A. Galt on November 5, 2001. In January 2007 the then Director of MDOT, Jim Lynch, was instrumental in getting the American Legion Highway Fatality Marker Program included on the 2007-2008 Official Montana Higway Map. This provided the American Legion with a lot of visibility and publicity. In November 2007, Mr. Lynch approved the construction and installation of 5' by 13' highway signs on all 25 highway entrances to Montana. These huge blue and white signs state that the White Marker Program is "maintained" by the American Legion of Montana. It was also in 2007 that the name of the program was changed from the White Cross to the Fatality Marker Program.
Highway Fatality Marker General Information
The program is intended as a highway safety not a memorial. Still, many families place wreaths or other decorations on the white crosses, which may be considered a memorial to a loved one lost in an accident. Obstruction of the white marker with these decorations defeats the purpose of the safety program. Attaching them below the cross on the metal pole is acceptable. The white markers serve as a public service message, reminding drivers to "Please Drive Carefully." They are a sobering reminder of a fatal traffic accident, a place where a human being lost his/her life.
The American Legion's Fatality Markers can be found within the boarders of Montana, along state and federal highways, secondary and forest service roads and even city streets. One white marker is erected for each traffic accident.
Not all highway fatalities are marked. Not all of the 134 Posts in Montana currently participate in the program. Some areas of Montana do not have a local American Legion Post. Because of these two reasons many stretches of Montana highways do not have fatality markders where a fatal accident has occured. Also, when a highway is reconstructed and corrects what may have been the cause of the fatality, all markers are removed. In these cases, only those fatality markers specifically requested by a family member are replaced. In addition, a family may request that a fatality marker not be erected at the site of a death.
Since it is the responsibility of the local Post to see that the white crosses are erected at the site of fatal traffic accidents, each one at the Montana Legion Posts is allocated a certain area of responsibility for erecting and maintaining the white crosses. Each American Legion Post is annually furnished with an instruction sheet with specifications for making the white fatality markers. Instructions are also provided for erecting the white crosses at fatality sites. Annual maintenance of the crosses is stressed in these instructions and at all Legion meetings. No tax money is used in the fabrication, erection, or maintenance of the fatality markers.
Since the White Cross Program's inception over 50 years ago, it is estimated that over 2,000 fatality markers have been erected along Montana's highways. This represents a cemetery of over 5 acres. The Montana Highway Patrol and Mother's Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have praised the program. Every governor has endorsed it since 1953. It has received much interest and many laudatory comments from tourists. It has acheived a certain degree of notoriety, having been broadcast on many TV stations nationally and throughout Montana and Spokan, WA. There was a short article in the May 30, 1970 issue of Life magazine as part of a story on the highways that kill. Numerous articles have been published in Montana newspapers as well as the Boston Globe, Washinton Post, Spokesman Review and the Seattle Times.
The Montana Governor's office, Department of Transportation and The American Legion Headquarters in Helena all receive many inquiries each year from out of state people regarding the "White Cross" program. These come from almost every state in the union, and even Canada and other foreign countries.
Highway Fatality Marker Instructions For Posts
The unique idea of marking fatal traffic accidents with white crosses was the brainchild of Floyd Eaheart, a member of Hellgate Post Number 27, American Legion, Missoula, Montana; after six persons were killed in traffic accidents in the Missoula area during the 1952 Labor Day Weekend. The Montana Highway Commission approved the program in January 1953; however; this safety program was not acknowledged in writing until a Letter of Instruction was signed by the then director of the MDOT, David A. Galt, on November 5, 2001. In January 2007 the then director of the MDOT, Jim Lynch, was instrumental in getting the American Legion Highway Fatality Marker Program included on the 2007-2008 Official Montana Highway Map. This provided the American Legion with a lot of visibility and publicity. In November 2007, Mr. Lynch approved the construction and installation of 5' by 13' highway signs on all 25 highway entrances to Montana. These huge Blue and White signs state that the White Marker Program is "Maintained by the American Legion of Montana." It was also in 2007 that the name of the program was changed from the "White Cross" to the "Fatality Marker Safety Program ".
The markers, together with the upright supporting post, are to be furnished by the local American Legion Posts and also installed by them. The posts may make the markers themselves. There should be no decorating or writing of any kind on the markers. Therefore, it is recommended that any decorations attached to the highway fatality markers be removed during regular maintenance. It is okay to place a small American Legion emblem on the back of the marker to let people know who erected it. It shall be the duty of the Legion Post most closely situated to the scene of the accident to furnish the marker and see that it is properly placed, as long as it is in that post's area of responsibility.
The following are the specifications:
White markers that are already located on the highways of Montana are to be maintained by the respective Legion Posts. Some of them now need another coat of paint, others need straightening or repair. This work should be done in the Spring. The best way is to get a group together on a weekend and just make the rounds, you can get quite a few done in just a day.
5. New or Re-Construction:
In the event that a section of highway is undergoing construction, all fatality markers should be removed by the local Legion Post and not be replaced. If the highway is only being re-surfaced or having the shoulders improved, all markers should be replaced upon completion of the re-construction. Installing guardrails or moving the tree line back do not require the fatality markers to be removed.
Much of the material that a post may need to construct the fatality markers can be obtained locally. Many state highway department maintenance shops will donate delineator material for our posts. Some local machine shops will donate either the material or workmanship to construct the marker. Sometimes material may be obtained from local land fills or plumbers. If you must purchase the material U-shaped steel posts are available at both Home Depot and Ace Hardware stores. They may also be available in other hardware, ranch, or fencing establishments near you. All the posts that I found were painted forest green and have hoes drilled in them. Therefore, if the fatality marker is also pre-drilled, the marker can be attached to the post after it is in the ground. The upright portion of the marker will have to be lengthened, say from 16" to 20" to compensate for that portion of the marker that overlaps the post and it is then painted bright red.
Marker Locations 2009-2016