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Candlelight Vigil Remembers Fallen Blue Angel

Dianna Lantz-Power

Thursday was a day of honor and reflection in memory of Marine Corps Capt. Jeff Kuss -- who died when his Blue Angel number-6 jet crashed near Nashville, Tennessee last week.

A private memorial service for the 32-year-old Kuss was held aboard NAS Pensacola on Thursday morning. On Thursday evening, Veterans Memorial Park was filled for a public candlelight vigil sponsored by the City of Pensacola.

Standing in front of The Wall South, retired Admiral and former Blue Angel David Anderson – now President of the Blue Angels Association – served as master of ceremonies for the 40-minute service. He referred to Kuss by his call sign “Kooch.”

“The accolades, the attributes, the effect on other lives that Kooch has had,” said Anderson. “You’re just going to see the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to be going on for generations.”

Next up, was Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward. He and his staff contacted Anderson about organizing the vigil. The Mayor urged the gathering – and the city as a whole – not to forget Kuss and his family, and Kuss’ service to country.

  “Whether it was Afghanistan, or representing the Blue Angels across America,” said Hayward. “We are in the Cradle of Aviation right here in Pensacola, Florida. We bleed the Blue Angels; we’re synonymous with the Blue Angels.”

“And while it is right and just to mourn the loss of our comrade, it is also right to celebrate his life and legacy. A legacy that lives on in his wife and two children,” said Lt. Matt Suyderhoud, who flies the Blues’ Number-2 jet and represented the team at the podium with his emotional remarks.

“As we garner strength from his memory, to rise from the ashes of this tragedy,” said Suyderhoud. “Jeff’s passing was a loss, no doubt. But in losing Jeff, we gain inspiration. We gain a guardian angel; a wingman. A wingman that will always be there. And we gain an ever-strengthening bond between this community and our team.”

Returning to the podium, Admiral David Anderson offered some advice to the people of Pensacola, in the form of an exhortation.

“Please, take care of the [Blue Angels’] families,” Anderson said. “These guys and ladies in blue flight suits are on the road 300 days a year. Their families, their children, their spouses – they’re in your schools, they’re in your churches, they’re at the soccer fields, you see them at the grocery store. Pensacola, this is your 2016 Blue Angels; take care of them.”

Six minutes of silence – for Kuss’ Number-6 aircraft – were observed while the audience lit their candles, held their small American flags, and thought their own personal thoughts.

Capt. Jeff Kuss’ body will now be taken to his hometown of Durango, Colorado, for a private funeral service on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the investigation continues into the crash. The Blue Angels have cancelled air shows in Syracuse, New York and Dayton, Ohio the next two weekends, and the process will begin soon to get the full team back into the air. But on Thursday, the Blues and the city they call home paused -- to remember and honor a fallen teammate.