Next week, we will honor heroism in the Coast Guard in Florida at our annual Tribute to the 7th District in St. Petersburg on Nov. 2. The tribute will honor the crew of the newly commissioned Coast Guard cutter William C. Flores. On Saturday, Nov. 3, there will be a special commissioning ceremony of the new fast-response cutter. Join us in honoring Coast Guard heroes in Florida.
Thirty-two years ago, Seaman Apprentice William Ray Flores, a young Coast Guard member from Benbrook, Texas, sacrificed his life to save the lives of his shipmates in the frantic minutes after their 180-foot cutter collided with a 605-foot oil tanker near the entrance of Tampa Bay, Florida.
Flores, 19, had only been in the Coast Guard a few months when the cutter Blackthorn collided with the tanker Capricorn on the evening of Jan. 28, 1980. Flores stayed aboard to throw life jackets to his crewmates who had jumped into the water.
He also assisted trapped crew members and comforted others who were injured and disoriented. When the Blackthorn began to sink, Flores used his belt to strap open the locker door so more life jackets could float to the surface.
Altogether, 27 of Flores' shipmates escaped the submerged Blackthorn, but, tragically, 22 including Flores, perished as a result of the sinking.
Seaman Flores was formally recognized in September 2000 when he was honored posthumously with the Coast Guard Medal, the service's highest award for heroism not involving combat.
The Coast Guard's third 154-foot fast response cutter is named in honor of the seaman apprentice who so bravely served and gave his life to save his shipmates. After commissioning, the William Flores will be home ported in Miami, with a crew of 24 to conduct migrant interdiction operations, port, waterways and coastal security patrols, search and rescue, as well as fisheries and national defense missions.