I have a soft heart for those who volunteer to stand in harm’s way to protect me, my community and my country. Very often they get the privilege of low pay, high divorce rate, and unexpected long tours overseas to garden spots such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, South Korea. Or they spend six months at sea, sometimes not even seeing dry land. Then when their active duty days are over they can depend on the government to take care of them with state of the art medical facilities and practices managed by Veterans Administration. I’m sorry for sarcasm, but it seems necessary in this case.
On Thursday, June 2nd, less than an hour after a crash and successful ejection of a US Air Force, Thunderbird, a Marine Captain found himself in a bad situation. While practicing for an upcoming air show in Smyrna, Tennessee, Captain Jeff Kuss, was doing a loop after takeoff when his aircraft stalled. He knew right then the airplane was going to crash. There wasn’t enough time to get enough power to the engines to get it flying again. He was at low altitude and over populated areas. Like the Thunderbird pilot, he could have ejected. He would have been free of the aircraft in less than a second and looking up at the canopy of his parachute. But in doing so, he would turn his ailing fighter plane into an unguided missile. In looking out his cockpit, he could see apartment complexes, schools, shopping malls, roads, gas stations, everything that suburban America takes for granted. The other thing he could see was the Sam Davis Estate.
Sam Davis was a confederate hero who was hung as a spy. He was such a gracious, but steadfast young man, that the Union Colonel who ordered him hung pleaded with him to change his mind, and give up his accomplices. He would not, and he walked proudly up the gallows and gave his life for what he believed in. The estate is now several acres of memorial to the man and his family. It hosts tours, and is still a working farm.
Seemingly to channel some of the spirit of Sam Davis, Captain Kuss elected to ride his glossy blue funeral chariot into the ground. He knew he was sacrificing his life, and leaving a wife and two young children behind. What he did not know was how many he saved by his single selfless act of sacrifice. We don’t know who is walking around Smyrna today because of what was done on Thursday.
The air show will go on. The Blue Angels will not be performing, leaving for their home base in Pensacola on Friday afternoon, leaving one plane and one pilot short. But they are also leaving behind a community that is fiercely proud of Captain Kuss. On Friday night, the lights of Nashville turned blue and yellow in his honor. There have been hundreds if not thousands of Facebook posts expressing sympathy, sadness, and pride in the actions of this young man. Today, on Saturday, the police will escort his body from the medical examiner offices in Murfreesboro back to the same airport he took off from on Thursday, where his body will be loaded on to a Navy plane for the last ride home. I expect to see another explosion of facebook posts and the community once again comes out to say goodbye to their adopted hero. The overpasses will echo with horns, the flags will be flying and a hero will exit not the field of battle, but a small town, in flyover country. Where jets flying over will never quite sound the same gain.
Lord, watch over Captain Kuss, his family and his brothers in arms. I know they are still in shock and are looking every time a door opens to see Jeff’s smiling face once again. But we know that won’t happen. Jeff will be with you in Heaven to welcome all of us who have been touched by this event. May we honor his memory and his sacrifice. May we become worthy of what he did for this community. May we know the love for our fellow man, that Captain Kuss showed in his last few moments on earth. Your word says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Father help us remember his life, so we can honor his death. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.
I feel that it would be appropriate to close this writing with the poem written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a fellow military aviator, who also lost his life in an accident. Here is High Flight.
"Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."
Rest in Peace, Captain Kuss.