SMYRNA, Tenn. — A $1 million memorial designed to honor the legacy of a fallen Blue Angels pilot is poised for dedication as a community gives back to the flight squadron who has entertained and inspired its citizens for two decades.
A captain in the U.S. Marines, Jeffrey “Kooch” Kuss was a decorated pilot who had logged nearly 1500 flight hours and 175 aircraft carrier landings. Tragically, his life was cut short two years ago, only seconds after taking off on a Blue Angels practice flight from the Smyrna Airport.
The government and citizens of Smyrna, located south of Nashville, have dedicated their time and money to honor Capt. Kuss and recognize his distinguished military service. As of May 22, the memorial team had raised $1.27 million of the $1.3 million needed to complete and maintain the memorial site.
“The one thing we started hearing (after the crash) was what are we going to do as a comunity to celebrate Jeff Kuss’ life,” said Smyrna Mayor Mary Reed. “They wanted to see some type of memorial that they could physically go to… we want everybody to feel like this is there memorial.”
Located at the Lee Victory Recreation Park, the Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial dedication ceremony will be held on Saturday, June 9, at 10 a.m. The public is invited to the event and officials ask attendees to wear their blue and gold.
Topped with a real F/A-18C Hornet (S/N 163498) on loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, the aerodynamic-styled memorial is located not far from the end of the runway he last departed. The jet is poised high above the ground perched a top a pedestal pointed skyward.
“Jeff was my inspiration and the outpouring of support from the people of Tennessee has been profoundly humbling,” Christina Kuss, wife of Capt. Kuss and mother of their two children, said recently. “You all have wrapped our family in so much love. We are inspired and we are grateful. This memorial is a wonderful tribute to Jeff’s life and distinguished service. I am hopeful it will inspire and encourage the children who see it to pursue their dreams as Jeff did.”
Capt. Kuss’ 20 months as a member of the Navy’s Flight Demonstration Squadron was a moment in his military career he had worked hard for to achieve. In 2009, he earned his wings of gold, and three years later, he graduated from the Navy Fighter Weapon School known as Top Gun.
Capt. Kuss first served as the Blue Angels narrator and advanced pilot during the 2015 season prior to being promoted to the opposing solo pilot — an advancement he took with pride. “Any position on here, whether you’re pushing a broom or flying a jet, it’s an honor,” Kuss told this aerospace journalist a few months before the accident. “I’m very excited and cannot wait.”
In the midst of the Blue Angels 70th anniversary season, the team arrived on June 2, 2016, to perform at the Great Tennessee Air show in Smyrna. The team’s 10 a.m. arrival was followed by their traditional circles flight an hour later, and later, a practice flight demonstration.
As several billowing clouds layered near the end of the runway, the Blue Angels four F/A-18 jets took off in finger tip formation to begin their practice demonstration. Minutes later, the Blues two solo pilots took off, first with lead solo pilot LT Ryan Chamberlin, followed by opposing solo Capt. Kuss on his ill-fated flight.
Donations are still being accepted to help maintain the Capt. Jeff Kuss Memorial. You can donate $1 or higher via Capt. Jeff Kuss Memorial web page; or with your cell phone, text Jeff to 71777. Then click on “Make a Donation” below.
You can also donate in person via cash or cheque at the Smyrna Town Hall on 315 S. Lowry Street or at Franklin Synergy Bank, 724 President Place, Smyrna.
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and science. He flew as a VIP with the Blue Angels in 2012. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)