Coast Guard honors fallen shipmates from Blackthorn tragedy

A bugler plays taps during the 37th annual Blackthorn memorial service in St. Petersburg, Friday, Jan. 27, 2016. The Blackthorn sank after colliding with the tanker Capricorn near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, in St. Petersburg, Jan. 28, 1980, resulting in the Coast Guard's worst peacetime disaster. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse

A bugler plays taps during the 37th annual Blackthorn memorial service in St. Petersburg, Friday, Jan. 27, 2016.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael De Nyse

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Coast Guard honored 23 fallen crew members Friday in St. Petersburg during the 37th anniversary memorial service of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collision.

The Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn sank after colliding with the tanker vessel Capricorn near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge Jan. 28, 1980. The Blackthorn lost 23 of its 50 crew members in the Coast Guard’s worst peacetime disaster. A memorial inscribed with the names of the crew members who perished stands two miles north of the collision site.

“This is the first Blackthorn memorial ceremony I’ve been to,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Odlanier Gonzalez-Vega, crew member stationed at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg. “After all these years, I am proud we still take a moment to gather and reflect.”

Rear Adm. Scott A. Buschman, Coast Guard District Seven commander, presided over the ceremony held in Blackthorn Memorial Park at the base of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge overlooking Tampa Bay. The ceremony included an aerial salute by Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater crews, a reading of the names of Blackthorn victims and the tolling of the ship’s bell.

During the ceremony, crew members from Coast Guard Cutter Joshua Appleby, a 175-foot Keeper Class Coastal Buoy Tender homeported in St. Petersburg and Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber, a 154-foot Fast Response cutter homeported in Miami, laid 23 roses to commemorate each of the fallen crew members.

“This annual ceremony commemorating the Blackthorn crew was a beautiful and solemn occasion,” said Lt. Ashley Holm, crew member at Sector St. Petersburg’s Waterways Management Division.  “I am honored to be here and pay tribute to my fallen shipmates.”

The Blackthorn collision provided the impetus for the establishment of the Command and Operations School at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. The school offers courses to prepare command-level officers and senior enlisted members for command duty afloat. Additionally, the Coast Guard developed new training requirements, invested in more safety equipment and made changes to the navigational aids in and around Tampa Bay.

Steeped in tradition and respectful remembrance, the annual Blackthorn commemoration is a moving tribute offering glimpses into the finest Coast Guard traditions.

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