Capt. Kuss’ Blue Angel aircraft at final resting place

“Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.” – Memorial to the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae in Greece, 490 B.C.

One of the world’s oldest military memorials remains to remind us of the deeds of men who died more than 2,500 years ago.

We still create memorials: the F/A-18C Hornet aircraft in Blue Angels colors on a pedestal at Lee Victory Park in Smyrna reminds us of the life and work of Capt. Jeff Kuss, United States Marine. Kuss, an aviator with the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the Blue Angels, died near the memorial site barely two years ago on June 2, 2016, while practicing for the Great Tennessee Air Show at the Smyrna Airport.

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Installing the 21,600-pound aircraft at the memorial site on Friday, June 1, was the capstone of a two-year-long project, with contractors racing to complete the memorial in time for its formal dedication on June 9 at 10 a.m. Much of Smyrna and the surrounding area are expected to attend the ceremony. Family, friends and military associates of Kuss are expected from Florida, the Carolinas and elsewhere in the country.

No one knows for sure why Kuss chose to stay with the aircraft until it was too close to the ground for him to survive; many think it was to steer away from an apartment complex and its residents.

Kuss was a decorated pilot who accumulated more than 1,400 flight hours and 175 carrier landings throughout his career. He served in Afghanistan and earned the Strike Flight Air Medal and the Navy & Marine Corps Achievement Medal during his time in the service. He joined the Blue Angels in September 2014 and flew as Opposing Solo for the 2016 team. He is survived by his wife, Christina; children, Calvin and Sloane; parents, Janet and Michael; and brother, Eric.

“Jeff was my inspiration and the outpouring of support from the people of Tennessee has been profoundly humbling,” Christina Kuss said. “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.”

The aircraft is on permanent loan from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. Mounting the 10-ton jet aircraft onto a pedestal was a complicated operation, and industry experts All Coast Aircraft Recovery oversaw the installation. Maxim Crane provided the 350-ton crane and crews for the lift, and CraneWorks provided the ground transport team. Smyrna Parks & Recreation helped oversee the project; the Smyrna Fire Department assisted with safety matters, and the Smyrna Police Department helped reroute traffic on Sam Ridley Parkway during the installation.

One of the primary gateways to the community for the project was Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed, who relied heavily on town officials, including Smyrna Town Manager Harry Gill as well as Amber Hobbs and Tiffany Lawson.

“The Blue Angels are such a part of our community and have been since 1970, but we had not singled out one individual. Two years ago, one individual became the face of the Blue Angels for us, Capt. Jeff Kuss,” Reed said. “What you see is a tribute to Capt. Jeff Kuss as well as the Blue Angels. I think it also shows the pride the Middle Tennessee area has for the military and the patriotism that each one of us feels. The journey, creating a memorial, has been as important as the destination, a memorial of concrete and steel that you can touch.

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“It’s not just been the journey for the ones who have worked on this project, it’s been a journey for the entire town of Smyrna. We’ve gone through a really hard time the last two years, trying to deal with this tragedy,” she continued. “To know that Saturday, June 9, we are going to be able to come full circle and come back to the place where we started with the vigil the very first night, when so many people wanted to be together as a community.”

Reed said the memorial has proven to exceed all expectations.

“We knew that we wanted something that was visible, we knew we wanted it accessible,” she said. “I don’t know how much more visible and accessible you can get than Sam Ridley Parkway, our busiest park in Lee Victory Park with our greenway running right through it. So, I hope we have been able to achieve what the community wanted to see from us.

“I hope this is something they are proud of, that this is what we were able to do for Capt. Jeff Kuss and the Blue Angels.”

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