The Marine Corps is based on three core values: honor, courage, and commitment. Every Marine learns this during their training, whether it be at Paris Island or OCS. These are what make the Marine Corps one of the most honorable sustained institutions in America’s history. In school, young Americans learn about their triumphs and sacrifices. They learn about Iwo Jima, and have the iconic image of the Marines raising the American flag etched into their minds. But it was not just US Marines, it was also the US Navy. These two branches have worked hand in hand during some of America’s darkest days.
The Blue Angels are a modern example of this teamwork.
As a child it was my family’s tradition to stay on Pensacola Beach during the Blue Angels summer airshow. We would pack a buffet and stay in the same hotel room every year for the entire week. I remember going through the stands of merchandise and buying little metal aircraft so I could mimic what the Blue Angels did. During the airshow, my cousin and I would run out onto the balcony to see the jets fly by, then run back inside to watch them again on the live news report. The delay of live action news gave us a chance to relive the magic we had just seen.
I grew up with the Blue Angels. I was born with their jet fuel in my veins and admiration in my heart. I believe I speak for everyone when I say the same could be said for Marine Captain Jeff Kuss.
Jeff Kuss was not just a war hero, he was an American hero. Every time he adorned his flight suit and climbed in the #6 jet, Kuss sparked a sense of awe into the viewers sitting in the stands. He showed little kids what real magic looked like. He showed adults what it felt like to be a kid again. The roar of the engines that are heard and streaks of blue that are seen when Kuss would perform a high-speed pass was enough to send adrenaline chills shivering down any person’s spine.
I have had the pleasure of meeting several of the Blue Angels’ pilots throughout my life. Each time I have spoken to them, I was speaking to my version of Superman. I did not grow up on Marvel or DC. I grew up on the US Navy and the Marine Corps, and my favorite heroes were always the Blues. Jeff Kuss strengthened this love. In his final moments, Captain Kuss performed one final heroic act. He was unable to eject from his aircraft, but managed to avoid causing any further deaths or injuries when he crashed. This man, in the final moments before his death, with the clear knowledge that he was about to die, acted with a selflessness that is not unexpected from a man of his caliber.
His grandfather said, “This was his dream since he was a child, to be an aviator, a flier.”
I believe the community, family and friends of Kuss, and Kuss’s second family, the Blue Angels, can take comfort in knowing that he died while living his childhood dream.
Jeff Kuss held the integrity of those men raising the flag in Iwo Jima. He knew the value and importance of military teamwork, especially in these times. Kuss had the honor to fly with the Blue Angels, the courage to look death in the eye and say, “Only me, no one else,” and the commitment to live his life as hero, even down to the very last second.
I joined my high school’s Honor Guard to become a part of the community that the Blue Angels are in. A community built on serving and protecting America. Every morning I have the honor of raising the American flag on my school’s campus. I have always felt proud to have this duty bestowed upon me. Now, going forward, it will have a new meaning to it. From now on, I will raise the flag not just for my country, but also for the men and women serving in our military, making the ultimate sacrifice for our safety. People like Jeff Kuss. The true American superheroes.