SMYRNA, Tenn. — For the first time, Janet and Michael Kuss were able to visit the site where their son, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss, crashed his F/A 18 jet prior to the Great Tennessee Air Show two years ago.
A beautiful sunset greeted them Thursday evening as they took in the immensity of the experience, and it was “very special,” father Michael Kuss said.
“It was just so beautiful to see what he saw, his last breath,” Janet Kuss said, tears welling in her eyes.
The Kuss family wanted to visit the site in the months following the crash, but it “never worked out.”
Janet Kuss said she believes it was because they were meant to experience that part of the grieving process now.
Capt. Jeff Kuss dreamed of flying since he was a baby, often choosing planes and jets for toys, said his mother.
But seeing the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds flying over his childhood home in Durango, Colo., when he was a preteen sealed the deal.
“He told his mom he wanted to do that some day. You could tell he wasn’t just saying that. He was really interested in … what those guys were doing, flying those jets,” Michael Kuss said.
Janet Kuss said she knew her son would become a pilot, but never dreamed he’d choose a military career.
“He researched the Blue Angels since he was little and then as he got older, he learned how to get to be a Blue Angel and that included the military," she said.
The journey to become a Blue was long and challenging. But Michael Kuss said his son was persistent about his dream job, but often understated his abilities as a pilot.
“He always said, ‘I don’t think I’ll make it. I’m not doing well.’ In fact, he was the head of the crew, skill wise. When he decided he wanted to get on the Blue Angels (squadron), it was, ‘Let’s go,’” Michael Kuss said.
At first, his parents didn’t worry much about their son’s flying career until he deployed and his job included landing on aircraft carriers. Then he advanced to the Blue Angels and it was even scarier for the family, Janet Kuss said.
“In the Marine training … they tell them they need to tell the family how dangerous this job was. … We talked about the possibility of a crash. … You think you’re prepared,” Janet Kuss said, trailing off. “But when it happens, you’re like, ‘It’s so final.’"
June 2, 2016
Capt. Kuss' plane crashed June 2, 2016, during a practice run for the airshow he had assured his mother "would be great."
Janet and Michael Kuss were at their shop in Durango with son, Eric Kuss, when they heard the news of their elder son’s crash. News of the crash spread quickly. It was Janet Kuss’ sister-in-law who called to tell them it was likely the No. 6 jet.
Trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy, Janet and Michael Kuss went into work the next day for business as usual. Then they flew out the Saturday following the crash to a memorial at the naval base in Pensacola, Fla., where the Blues Angels call home.
Since that fateful day, the family remained close to their son’s Marine squad and “they keep in touch,” Michael Kuss said.
“He was really proud to be a part of that outfit,” Michael Kuss said.
Janet Kuss said the squadron members are “very generous” with their time. “They are just trying so hard to fulfill that void,” she said.
Visiting the memorial has been a part of healing, too, just to know the community is supporting them.
“What a sight, visually, but also the location. … Photographs don’t do it justice. And how much love and work and labor went into that memorial. It was beautiful,” Michael Kuss said.
The warm welcome has meant so much to the family as well, said Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed.
“Citizens want to let them know how sorry they are and how much they appreciate what Jeff has done for the country and for our community, and for them just to be able to say, ‘We love you, we’re sorry and we’ve been praying for you. Think that meant so much for Janet and Michael to know that they’ve had this support from our community for so long,” Reed said.
Janet Kuss said, “You can just feel the love. … I love it.”
Reach reporter Nancy De Gennaro at 615-278-5148 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow her on Twitter @NanDeGennaro.
How you can help
Community members can still be a part of the memorial by donating funds. Three levels of personalized pavers are available for purchase with your donation.
There are several ways you can donate.
• Text Jeff to 71777
• Visit captjeffkussusmcmemorial.com and click the “donate” tab
• Drop checks in person to Town Hall, 315 S. Lowry St. in Smyrna
• Make donations at Franklin Synergy Bank, 724 President Place in Smyrna
If you go
What: Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial dedication
When: 10 a.m. June 9
Where: Lee Victory Recreation Park, 110 Sam Ridley Parkway, Smyrna
Details: Wear patriotic colors, bring chairs and blankets, arrive early to get a good view