U.S. Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss died June 2, 2016 in Smyrna, when his jet went down the day before The Great Tennessee Airshow. Now the town will honor his memory and sacrifice with a memorial at Lee Victory Park featuring a retired Blue Angel aircraft, essentially a match of Capt Kuss' Hornet.
Details of the memorial were announced May 18 at a press conference hosted by Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed and attended by approximately 300 people, including first responders to his crash site, representatives from the Marines, Navy, Air Force and Army, law enforcement and community leaders.
"The Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial will celebrate the life and career of an American hero," said Reed. "Smyrna was home to Sewart Air Force Base from World War II through 1971 and our community has a strong connection to the military. We want the family of Captain Kuss to have a permanent tribute to his life that they can be proud of for many years to come."
Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil at Lee Victory park the night of Kuss' death. The next day during The Great Tennessee Airshow at the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport, the desire for a more permanent way to honor Kuss was first whispered about.
At the grassroots level, the community turned those whispers into an emphatic clamor town officials heard loud and clear. A committee was established.
The support has been "great" according to Navy officials involved in the planning and approval process. The Naval community is reportedly "overwhelmed with the energetic and responsive support from the Smyrna community."
Final approval for the memorial fell to Capt. Kuss' widow Christina Kuss, who gave the go-ahead during a long phone conversation between she and Mayor Reed. Both reportedly shed tears.
Kuss, his wife and their children are "considered by the Smyrna community to be members of the family," said Reed later.
"Jeff was my inspiration and the outpouring of support from the people of Tennessee has been profoundly humbling," said Christina Kuss in a news release.. "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, who was born in 1984 in Durango, Colorado, did not eject when his aircraft could not be pulled out of a maneuver last summer. The crash occurred in a field off Weakley Lane and Sam Ridley near Smyrna Airport, just feet from residential neighborhoods and the Sam Davis historic home. His jet went down in a large open area behind a bowling alley.
He is survived by his wife and their two children, Calvin and Sloane, as well as his brother Eric Kuss and his parents Janet and Michael Kuss.
The memorial will sit on Smyrna's Greenway path in Lee Victory Park, on a raised embankment following the route of Sam Ridley Boulevard, visible from both the park and the road. The path will bisect the stone wall surrounding the memorial, which will contain a bench. A sign currently marks the location.
A bronze plaque will describe the mission and life of Capt. Kuss. The American flag, Tennessee flag, Smyrna flag, U.S. Navy flag and U.S. Marine Corps flag will be prominently displayed and illuminated.
The memorial's centerpiece, a retired F/A-18c Hornet Naval Aircraft, is on a permanent loan to the town thanks to The National Naval Aviation Museum, which arranged for the donated aircraft to be a retired Blue Angel aircraft, essentially a match of Capt Kuss' Hornet.
The acquisition of a retired aircraft for display or memorialization can take three to five years; the overall project was approved by Navy officials in less than a year, in time for the first anniversary of the death of Capt. Kuss.
The F/A-18c Blue Angels Hornet aircraft for the memorial is currently scheduled to depart the flight-line of Naval Air Station Pensacola, home of the Blue Angels, on Florida's gulf coast, on May 25, according to officials.
Curriculum for school children is being developed by Kellye Goostree, principal of Brown's Chapel Elementary School and a member of the Memorial Committee, in conjunction with the newly opened Smyrna Outdoor Adventure Center. The curriculum will celebrate the excellence and high ideals embodied by Kuss, as reflected in the core values of the Navy and Marine Corps: honor, courage, and commitment.
The cost is estimated to reach $1 million. Groundbreaking is scheduled for this fall and completion of the project in the spring.
"We are excited to say that through corporate and private sector contributions, we have already raised half a million dollars towards our million dollar goal," said Reed.
Where the greenway passes through the memorial will be paved with red brick memorial pavers, which may be inscribed with family names or organization names to note personal contributions.
More information on the Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial, including a video presentation and an online MobilCause fundraising tool, is available online at the Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial website, www.captjeffkussusmcmemorial.com. Folk can also give by texting "Jeff" to 71777, in person at Smyrna Town Hall or at Franklin Synergy Bank.
The initial construction, custody and ongoing maintenance of the memorial will be the responsibility of the city and county, and was an important element in the project's speedy approval.
Mayor Reed and the Memorial Committee were logistically supported by Town Manager Harry Gill and the Town Council. The Smyrna Rotary club is honored to administer donations through their non-profit 501(c)(3) accounts, to keep them separate from town funds.
This story has been updated.