La Plata County will grieve for one of its own Saturday as Capt. Jeff Kuss is brought home for burial.
The Durango native and Blue Angels pilot died in a plane crash June 2 in Smyrna, Tennessee, while training for an airshow.
In addition to his family, the Blue Angels unit and numerous Marines are expected to arrive for the occasion. While he didn’t know how many Marines will come to Durango for the service, Capt. Clay Groover of Beaufort Air Station in South Carolina, the home of the Marine Attack Squadron 312, Kuss’ former unit, said a significant number had asked for leave and were traveling on their own dime to come show respect.
“It is extremely rare to find a ceremony of this magnitude for any military personnel,” said George Usinowicz about what Durango can expect. He served in the Vietnam War, and his brother was a fighter pilot. “But this group is so elite and so tight-knit, Durango will see something unique.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered flags lowered to half-staff on all public buildings in Colorado from sunrise to sunset Saturday in Kuss’ honor.
Because Durango has never had a military funeral at this level, here’s a summary of how it will work:
Kuss will be flown to Durango in the Blue Angels C-130 Hercules, dubbed No. 6, his flight designation, on Friday, along with his family. Both the family and the military have asked that the return be closed to the public.
Residents can show their support for the family and respect for Kuss’ service along the route of the motorcade.
Only friends and family invited to the service and military members will ride in the motorcade.
“If Durango friends or family happened to be left off or an error was made on the list,” Kuss’ mother, Janet Kuss, said, “please don’t take offense and know it’s tough to plan this.”
The hope is residents will line the entire route. Free U.S. flags that people can wave are still available at the Durango Chamber of Commerce, 111 South Camino del Rio, and the Durango Olive Oil Co., 640 Main Ave. They have blue and yellow ribbons people can tie around trees and posts to honor both the Blue Angels’ and Fort Lewis College’s colors or wave as the motorcade passes. Kuss graduated from FLC in 2006.
The Blue Angel Press Office issued this response to a request for motorcade etiquette:
“You should remove your hat (if you are wearing one) and stand at attention in respectful silence until the escort passes. Uniformed U.S. service members wearing their cover (hat) would salute.”
Drivers should expect delays and some brief road closures as the motorcade travels through downtown. Multiple law enforcement agencies will manage traffic.
The service will be private, and Greenmount Cemetery will be closed during the service, which is expected to last from noon to 1 p.m.
Residents may hear the rifle volley and see jets fly over town and the cemetery in the Missing Man Formation. Groover said the Checkerboards were sending 2 F/A-18 Hornets to “support the Blue Angels.”
“Pilots fly this magnificent and solemn aerial maneuver for presidents, potentates, astronauts and other pilots of note as a tribute and showing of love, respect and camaraderie for a brother pilot,” the Blue Angels said in a post from Old Glory Traditions. “This maneuver is sometimes flown with the wingman spiraling off, or it is flown consistently with a hole where another should be.”
Both the salute and flyover should occur around 1 p.m. The Rim at FLC is a good viewing point for the Missing Man Formation.
From 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, friends and family are invited to a reception in front of the Student Union at FLC.
email@example.com This article has been updated to correct information about the rifle volley. It was incorrectly called a 21-gun salute in an earlier version.