Members of the American Legion of Montana donned bright yellow vests and used grass trimmers to mow down weeds on the side of Huffine Lane on Thursday afternoon.

The group is clearing the area so that drivers have a clear line of sight from the road to the stark white cross standing tall in the ditch. The cross marks where a person died in a car accident.

Greg Harbac is the Bozeman area coordinator for the American Legion of Montana’s White Cross Highway Fatality Marker Program and said the goal is to promote safety on Montana’s roads.

“Those markers should cause us to put down the phone, slow down and use traffic signals,” Harbac said.

Harbac, 66, is a former U.S. Marine and has been involved with American Legion Post No. 14 for 15 years. He works with a team including three other members — Laura Alley, Dave Hanley and Gil Parker. They maintain more than 100 markers, and add new ones each year around the Gallatin Valley.

The program has been in operation for more than 60 years. According to the American Legion, the first marker was placed by Post No. 27 in Missoula. It was right after Labor Day weekend in 1952, and six people had been killed in accidents.

The idea was soon adopted by posts all over the state. Markers can be seen along interstates, highways and in towns. Markers are placed when new accidents occur, and old markers are maintained. On the Legion’s website, it says the markers are meant to evoke “reverence, sorrow, sympathy, curiosity and caution.”

The Legion, in agreement with the Montana Department of Transportation, has specific guidelines in place for how the markers are placed.

Although the markers do honor those who’ve died on Montana’s roads, the American Legion asks that people not decorate the markers.

“It’s distracting and takes away from the safety aspect,” Harbac said.

The markers are painted with matte paint, so as not to reflect in the light. They sit atop tall stakes colored bright red.

On Thursday afternoon, three members of Bozeman’s fatality marker team worked together swiftly and in unison to clear a patch of grass and assemble the symbol. Hanley plugged exact coordinates into a GPS to find the location of the crash. One person drove the stake into the ground and the other two used tools to attach the cross.

J.E. Soares, Inc., a Belgrade sheet metal manufacturer, donates the white crosses and a printing business, Personalize It, provides free laser engraving on the markers to show their origin.

Harbac said the team tries to get to each marker at least once a year for maintenance. He said people can request the addition of a marker if the team has missed the site of an accident, or the removal of a marker if the memory is too painful.

Hanley, who served in the U.S. Army, said he enjoys the work and that it’s important to try to keep people safe.

“I’m proud to do it,” he said.

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