Coast Guard Heroes: William Ray Flores

This Compass series chronicles the first 14 heroes the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters have been named for. These men and women, who stood the watch before us, lived extraordinary lives as they lit the way for sailors in times past, braved gunfire in times of war and rescued those in peril at sea. As Coast Guard heroes, their stories are a constant reminder of our service’s legacy. As the namesake of the Coast Guard’s newest patrol boats, they will inspire the next generation of Coast Guard heroes.

With contributions from LTJG Ryan White

 

Seaman Apprentice William Ray “Billy” Flores

Seaman Apprentice William Ray “Billy” Flores was honored posthumously with the Coast Guard Medal after he sacrificed his life to help his shipmates after a collision between his cutter and an oil tanker on January 28, 1980. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Seaman Apprentice William Ray “Billy” Flores gave his life to save his shipmates in the frenzied moments after the collision between Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn and the 605-foot oil tanker Capricorn on January 28, 1980.

Flores, 19, was less than a year out of boot camp and was newly reported to Blackthorn when the 180-foot buoy tender capsized near the entrance to Tampa Bay, Fla.

As the boat became submerged, inexperience gave way to bravery as Flores and another crewmember stayed aboard to throw life jackets to some of his shipmates who had jumped into the water.

Flores remained behind and used his own belt to strap open the lifejacket locker door, which allowed additional lifejackets to float to the surface.

“I was on the bridge and when the ship rolled onto beams end I knew we were past the point of no return and would surely capsize,” said retired Lcdr. John Ryan, a member of Blackthorn’s crew. “I went into the water from the bridge wing and by the time I surfaced the ship had capsized over me. I was injured with a sprained back and injured shoulder. As I struggled, suddenly a life jacket from the locker that was on the main deck came floating up to me.”

Due in no small part to Flores’ fearless actions and sacrifice, 27 of Flores’ shipmates escaped the submerged Blackthorn, but tragically 22 other Coast Guardsmen perished aboard Blackthorn.

A special place in the Coast Guard’s history

Salute to Blackthorn

A Coast Guardsmen salutes the Blackthorn Memorial after placing a wreath at the base during the annual memorial held on Jan. 28 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Coast Guard photo by PA3 Robert Suddarth.

Flores was posthumously awarded the Coast Guard Medal, the service’s highest award for heroism not involving combat, on September 16, 2000. Flores’ family accepted the award and selected the date because it is a day of honor for many Hispanics that celebrates Mexico’s fight for independence from Spain.

The Coast Guard’s recognition of Flores’ heroism came after many of his surviving shipmates reviewed the records of the collision and realized that Flores’ actions had not been formally honored. His shipmates poured through transcripts from the surviving crew, administrative records and newspaper clippings to ensure Flores would receive the honor he so profoundly deserved.

“I am convinced that William Flores saved my life by his selfless act that night,” said Ryan. “That quiet young man that I was impressed with from the first time I met him will forever be a hero in my eyes. I have never forgotten him and never will. It is a fitting tribute to his heroism that a cutter will bear his name.”

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  • greg szabo fso-ns flotilla 7-12 5nr

    a great tribute to a well deserving coastie….

  • Katy Flores

    Well deserved, Uncle Billy. Love you.

  • C. F.

    What a way to give tribute to such an amazing Coastie.

  • T.Ruiz

    A well deserved tribute to an American Hero,God Bless our Troops.

  • Tom Chaney

    He was a true hero.

  • Vicki Wilson Orr

    Julie, Bob and Family, I was brought to tears at the announcement that they are naming a cutter in honor of Billy.I visit Billy’s grave everytime I am at the cemetary and think of what a True Hero he really was and how his Legacy will live on in history forever. Love to you all.

  • Steve Marx

    I admired Billy when he got his parents permission to leave Western Hills High School for the Coast Guard. He is an American Hero in every sense! I am pleased to learn of the award and that the Coast Guard will name a Cutter in his honor! I am proud to have been among his friends!

  • Perry Gonzalez

    Billy was a Genuine person offering his all for what he believed in. His unselfish, extremely quick thinking to save his “brothers” honestly did not surprise me. He had such a huge passion for life that he knowingly gave his own for others to experience and enjoy. Billy was proud to be in the Coast Guard….I have the letters to prove this. He was my best friend just as he was to many others. His was a friendship to be cherished.

  • Christina Martinez Weir

    So proud of you Billy! I didn’t have the privledge of knowing you but you are always mentioned with pride in family stories.

  • Christina Martinez Weir

    So proud of you Billy! I didn’t have the privledge of knowing you but you are always mentioned with pride in family stories.

  • Edward Wyatt

    I did not know Billy personally but I remember the Blackthorn tragedy like it was yesterday. I am a USAF VietNam veteran and very much appreciate our young and older men who serve our country and protect us. I am happy to see a long, overdue tribute to such a brave young man who made the ultimate sacrifice to save his USCG brothers. God bless and protect all of our service men, both young and old.- Edward Wyatt

  • Edward Martinez

    just wondering when the ship bearing Billy’s name will be commissioned.
    Edward Martinez

  • LTJG S. M. Young

    Edward Martinez,

    Thank you so much for your interest in the ship’s commissioning. It will truly be a moving event.

    The cutter bearing the name William Flores will be the third Fast Response Cutter and does not yet have a firm date for its delivery. The latest updates on delivery dates can be found on the FRC’s website here.

    Very Respectfully,
    LTJG S. M. Young
    Coast Guard Public Affairs

  • Richard Strickland

    I woke up this morning thinking of the incident . She had been homeported there in mobile I ran my 32 along side her berth everyday as I left the boathouse. Lost several friends , we all hung out . We were all so young then . I often remind myself how important my life is today , because of their memory .

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Diana-White/100001577471824 Diana White

    What a wonderful act of sacrifical bravery!

  • Mark Gatz

    My shipmates. May you rest in peace. Not a day goes by that you don’t cross my mind.