More than 1,000 locals, in clusters of 10 to 50 at the sides of Lowry Street, lined the streets and waved American flags as the F/A-18c Hornet painted in Blue Angels’ colors arrived for its final mission as the centerpiece of the Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial in Smyrna.
The number “6” on this Hornet’s tail was number “3” during last year’s Great Tennessee Air Show, a companion plane to the one that carried Capt. Kuss to his death June 2, 2016, on a field near the Sam Davis Home.
The two aircraft are essentially identical; though one destroyed, and one lives on, to carry Captain Kuss’ memory.
The Hornet came 450 miles from the Blue Angels’ home field at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where it was recently retired after reaching the limits of its service life.
It was neatly packaged onto a specialized flat-bed truck operated by All Coast Aircraft Recovery of Weirsdale, Florida, owned by Cmdr. Chuck Mosely, United States Navy (ret.). Mosely’s firm specializes in movement of all types, models and series of aircraft for museums around the country.
Last trip from Pensacola
The aircraft is on permanent loan to the Town of Smyrna from the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.
The truck’s route took its special cargo north on Interstate 65, to Interstate 840, onto Lowry Street at the exchange, where it moved at a parade pace past the Depot businesses and Smyrna Town Hall, followed fore and aft with the blue and red flashing lights of its fire and police escorts, to include multiple Smyrna Police cars for traffic and ceremony, several engines of Smyrna Fire, and cruisers from the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
The Hornet passed slowly under a large American flag held aloft by two Smyrna Fire Department ladder trucks in front of the Lowry Street Fire Station. A television news helicopter recorded the entire route in Smyrna, as locals paid their respects at the side of the road.
The Hornet moved along Lowry Street to the ramp onto Sam Ridley Boulevard, down Threet Industrial Boulevard and Doug Warpoole Road, where it paused for a brief public viewing and press conference on the flight-line near the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority building.
‘Community wanted to see a memorial’
On the flight-line, town officials, and citizens mingled, sharing pictures and stories.
“This is important to Smyrna because initially, when the crash happened, we were all going through the grieving process as a community” Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed said. “Once we got through that grieving process, the community wanted to see a memorial, something they physically could go to honor Cpt. Jeff Kuss. The Memorial Committee got together and went to work.”
Reed said the request for a Blue Angels aircraft from the National Naval Aviation Museum was approved much more quickly than anyone expected and initiated a surge of work and activity for the Memorial Committee. She said the Memorial Committee is very thankful for the donated services of local architectural firm Kline Swinney Associates, who designed the Kuss Memorial in keeping with the expressed desires of the community.
After the public viewing, the Hornet was then taken across the runway to a hangar, where a professional crew removed it from the flat-bed trailer and reinstalled its wings. The aircraft will remain in storage until ready to be installed at the Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC Memorial.
Fundraising goal not yet met
Groundbreaking for the memorial will be in the Spring on a date to be announced, with completion of the memorial in the Fall. With a fundraising goal of $1 Million, more than $680,000 has been raised thus far through corporate and private donations.
Three levels of personalized bricks are available for purchase with a donation, starting at $100, and may be tax deductible as a charitable contribution. Donations can be made by texting “Jeff” to 71777, in person via cash or check at Smyrna Town Hall at 315 S. Lowry Street, at Franklin Synergy Bank at 724 President Place, or online at captjeffkussusmcmemorial.com.