Tampa Coast Guard hero honored with statue in underwater Circle of Heroes

Pinellas County

TAMPA (WFLA) – Seaman Apprentice William Flores was only 18 years old when the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn sank in Tampa Bay in 1980.

The cutter collided with an oil tanker.

The tanker’s anchor sliced into Blackthorn, flipping it and sending crew members into the water.

Flores’ brother Sam recalls first-hand accounts of his brother’s last heroic act: Releasing life jackets for anyone to grab onto.

“Several of his shipmates have indicated that but for those lifejackets that came to the surface in the water, they would have perished,” he says.

The act saved untold crew members.

For his actions, William Flores is being honored with a 6-feet concrete statue. It will be lowered into its final resting place in the Circle of Heroes, an effort by non-profit Brighter Future Florida.

“He continues to have recognition some 40 years after his act of bravery,” Sam says. “It’s just a slow trickle of never ending honors and we’re just very pleased and proud of him.”

The ‘Circle’ is 10 miles off of the coast of Clearwater, 40 feet below the surface. It opened to divers in 2019 with 12 life-sized statues. Flores statue will be No. 13.

But the irony is that while losing his life, William Flores is helping Wounded Warriors heal and survive some 40 years later.

“It helps wounded warriors to heal,” Sam says. “I’ve read that veterans go down there time and again to seek comfort from post traumatic stress syndrome and whatnot.”

While Flores’ is the first statue to resemble a specific person, the goal is to complete the circle with 24 statues from all branches of the armed forces.

To learn more about the Circle of Heroes, visit Brighter Future Florida.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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