During National Hispanic Heritage Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Coast Guard Veteran William R. Flores, who saved lives during a ship collision.
William R. Flores was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico in November 1961. His family moved to Fort Worth, Texas in 1967. Flores attended Western Hills High School and when he was 17 years old, he wanted to leave school and join the Marines. However, he needed his parents’ permission because he was not 18. They refused. Not giving up, Flores decided to join the Coast Guard and this time, his parents agreed.
In 1979, Flores joined the Coast Guard and completed basic training at Alameda, California. He then served aboard USCGC Blackthorn. On the evening of Jan. 28, 1980, the 180-foot Blackthorn traveled from Tampa, Florida, to Galveston, Texas, its home port. However, the SS Capricorn, a 605-foot oil tanker, also traveled in the Tampa Bay waters. The seaman apprentice and the rest of the crew did not expect anything out of the ordinary that night. But due to a series of mishaps, the two ships collided.
When the Capricorn’s 13,500-pound anchor ripped the hull of the Blackthorn, the Coast Guard cutter rapidly took on water. Flores, along with another seaman, started throwing life jackets to crewmen in the water. The Blackthorn started to sink, and the other seaman abandoned ship. Flores stayed aboard and used his belt to tie the life jacket locker door open. This allowed the jackets to float into the water and save many who were overboard. Most crewmembers had now abandoned ship, but Flores stayed and helped those who were trapped or injured. In less than 10 minutes, the Blackthorn capsized with Flores still aboard. Flores was 18 years old when he died. Of the 50 seamen onboard the Blackthorn, 23 perished that night. Flores saved many lives with his act of selflessness.
Flores posthumously received a Coast Guard Medal, the highest award for heroism not involving enemy conflict. In his honor, the Coast Guard named a fast response cutter, USCGC William Flores, in November 2011. On Jan. 27, 2020, the Circle of Heroes added a statue of Flores. This is a Veterans’ memorial and an underwater sculpture park which sustains marine life and serves as a therapeutic diving destination for wounded warriors in St. Petersburg, Florida.
We honor his service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Writer: Michael Veronda
Editor: Julia Pack and Kristen Whitehurst
Fact checker: Carl Wesseln
Graphic artist: Courtney Carr