By Joseph T. O’Connor Explore Big Sky Senior Editor
BIG SKY – The white cross near Dudley Creek on Highway 191 north of the Big Sky turnoff is the first of many you’ll pass on the way to Bozeman. It’s there to warn motorists of the dangers existing on this road and serves as a memorial to Andy Fischer, who died there on his way to ski Big Sky Resort in 2005.
A wicker wreath adorns the cross, 0.8 miles from the junction leading to the resort.
This cross is one of currently 103 along Highway 191 between Yellowstone National Park’s west entrance and Four Corners, and is part of the statewide White Cross Program, an American Legion service project begun in 1953. Approximately 2,000 white crosses dot the landscape along Montana highways and byways.
For more than 20 years on Armed Forces Day – the third Saturday in May – Big Sky local Kenny “Cuz” Alley has parked his pickup truck at the Conoco gas station at the corner of 191 and the Lone Mountain Trail. On May 17, he gathered a few wire brushes and cans of red and white spray paint, and waited for other Legionnaires and members of the public to join him.
“It helps when people come out and see what we’re doing,” said Alley, a former U.S. Army truck driver. “When people see the crosses, they know they’re part of the legion. It’s a little wake up while you’re going down the road.”
Soon, three more Montana American Legion members joined Alley, and the foursome set out to repaint the Gallatin Canyon crosses and decorate them with miniature American flags. For the legion, the crosses are reminders to drive cautiously, and to mark the places where fatal traffic accidents occurred. For these veterans, they serve as memorials.
“We want to make sure they get recognized,” said Brian Busick, a former Air Force soldier and a veteran of Desert Storm who attended White Cross Day. “We need people to know to slow down. Don’t get stupid on this road.”
Dick Allgood, former owner of Allgood’s Bar and Grill, is a 20-year member of the legion. He was an Air Force pilot during Vietnam and then a helicopter rescue pilot, and joined Ken McMillon, the legion’s District Seven commander out of Belgrade, in the effort to refurbish the Highway 191 crosses.
McMillon, who served as a Navy welder and firefighter on supply ships in Vietnam, flipped his hat backward and snapped photographs at Fischer’s cross. “It’s [one more] thing that I can do to help,” he said.