The Birth of the Modern Coast Guard and the Loss of the Cutter Blackthorn

January 28th is a historic and tragic day in the history of the United States Coast Guard.

On January 28, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the “Act to Create the Coast Guard,” an act passed by Congress on January 20, 1915 that combined the Life-Saving Service and Revenue Cutter Service to form the Coast Guard (38 Stat. L., 800). The Coast Guard, however, still considers the date of the founding of the Revenue Cutter Service, August 4, 1790, as its official birthday, even though the Lighthouse Service, absorbed in 1939, is even older than that, dating to August 7, 1789. Under the new law the Coast Guard officially became “part of the regular military establishment of the United States.”

On January 28, 1980, the U.S. Coast Guard suffered the greatest peacetime loss of personnel in its history. The Coast Guard Cutter BLACKTHORN outbound the Tampa Bay Ship Channel collided with the inbound tanker Capricorn. The BLACKTHORN capsized and sank with 23 crew members trapped inside the cutter. Their sacrifice brought about significant changes to harbor entry navigational systems, wider shipping lanes and improvement in many other areas.

Today, the Coast Guard marked the 40th anniversary of the Blackthorn sinking. In remembering the event, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz said, “Today, we commemorated the 40th anniversary of a disaster that claimed the lives of 23 Coast Guardsmen aboard the Coast Guard Cutter BLACKTHORN. Their loss was a terrible blow to our Service and a defining moment in U.S. Coast Guard history. In the face of great tragedy, heroes emerge. Like Seaman William Flores, one of the cutter’s most junior crewmen, who stayed aboard BLACKTHORN to save servicemembers trapped in the bowels of the sinking vessel. He was one of those lost to the sea on that fateful day.

The entire crew of Cutter BLACKTHORN chose to put service before self – to live by our core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty. Each are part of our long blue line of heroes, and we remember their sacrifice every single day.”

Coast Guard members hold roses for a crossing the bar ceremony at the 40th anniversary memorial for the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn near Galveston, Texas, Jan. 28, 2020. The Blackthorn capsized on Jan. 28, 1980 after colliding with a tanker vessel near Tampa Bay, Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Paige Hause)

Coast Guard members stand at attention during the 40th anniversary memorial for the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn near Galveston, Texas, Jan. 28, 2020. The Blackthorn capsized on Jan. 28, 1980 after colliding with a tanker vessel near Tampa Bay, Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer Paige Hause)

Chief Petty Officer Justin Bell holds the original Coast Guard Ensign from the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn after the 40th anniversary memorial near Galveston, Texas, Jan. 28, 2020. The Blackthorn capsized on Jan. 28, 1980 after colliding with a tanker vessel near Tampa Bay, Florida. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Paige Hause)

Yesterday, the Tampa Bay Times told the story of William Flores.

LOCKPORT, La. - The family of Seaman Apprentice William Flores gathers in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Flores after the Coast Guard Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutter Fleet Dedication at the Bollinger Shipyard in Lockport, La., March 2, 2012. The third Fast Response Cutter was named after Flores for his heroic actions after the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collided with the motor tanker Capricorn near the entrance to Tampa Bay Jan. 28, 1980. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

LOCKPORT, La. – The family of Seaman Apprentice William Flores gathers in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Flores after the Coast Guard Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutter Fleet Dedication at the Bollinger Shipyard in Lockport, La., March 2, 2012. The third Fast Response Cutter was named after Flores for his heroic actions after the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn collided with the motor tanker Capricorn near the entrance to Tampa Bay Jan. 28, 1980. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

 


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