By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor
BIG SKY – Bluebird skies, crisp air and Lone Mountain draped in a fresh blanket of snow greeted American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett when he arrived at Big Sky’s Soldiers Chapel on Sept. 18.
Barnett was elected to the American Legion’s top job on Sept. 3 in Baltimore, Md., and Montana was the third stop on a 50-state tour during his yearlong term. Members of Big Sky Post 99 hosted a luncheon for the commander at the chapel before Barnett helped dedicate a white cross on Lone Mountain Trail.The cross was installed to memorialize Kelsey McLean, who was killed Aug. 17 in a head-on vehicle collision near milepost 1. The American Legion Big Sky Post 99 installs white crosses at all vehicle fatality sites on Lone Mountain Trail and Highway 191, from the Yellowstone National Park boundary north to the mouth of Gallatin Canyon. The white cross program is a national initiative for the American Legion, which was founded in 1919 and has 2.2 million members.
Since the Big Sky 99 post began the program 35 years ago, McLean’s death was the 10th on Lone Mountain Trail and 103rd in the corridor they serve, according to 10-year post commander Kenny Alley.
Big Sky Post 99 has 35 active members and meets on the first Tuesday of every month at Lone Peak Cinema. Eligibility for American Legion membership is limited to U.S. veterans and active-duty servicemen who served at least one day of active duty during a wartime period.
Barnett visited Big Sky to represent those 2.2 million members during a four-day tour of the state, and was welcomed by Post 99 Legionnaires, as well as other community members. Post Adjutant Dick Allgood gave opening remarks, which included a $200 check presentation to Soldiers Chapel caretaker Julie Grimm.
“The chapel exists exclusively on donations [from] the public,” Allgood said.
“I’ve been a lot of places in my travels and I can’t think of any place more scenic,” Barnett said, gazing out at Soldiers Chapel and Lone Mountain to the west. “People all over the world would be lucky to have what we have in this country. We’re blessed.”
Over a lunch catered by the Corral Bar, Steakhouse and Motel, Commander Barnett described his first trip to the area – his 1974 honeymoon when he and his wife visited Yellowstone during a six-week road trip from Indianapolis, Ind., to California.
Barnett said he doesn’t have nearly the flexibility in his schedule as he did then – even to spend time in his office at the American Legion national headquarters in Indianapolis.
“You’d be more likely to see me in an airport than in my office,” Barnett said.