Fort Worth school district honors former student for heroism

FORT WORTH -- Bobby Flores knew a little about the uncle who died 31 years ago while saving the lives of 27 crewmates aboard their sinking Coast Guard ship.

But the 9-year-old Waverly Park Elementary student didn't learn the details of his uncle's heroic sacrifice until he Googled his name as part of a Cub Scout project.

That's when Bobby learned that the Coast Guard was naming one of its new fast-response patrol boats the Cutter William Ray Flores -- the second time his uncle has been recognized for his heroism.

The Fort Worth school district honored him a third time Thursday by adding him to its Wall of Fame, which since 2009 has recognized the accomplishments of 124 alumni.

Flanked by the Flores family, Superintendent Melody Johnson recounted the actions that inspired the Coast Guard and the district to bestow these posthumous honors.

On Jan. 28, 1980, 19-year-old Seaman Apprentice Flores was less than a year out of boot camp and Western Hills High School and recently assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn when the 180-foot buoy tender collided with the 605-foot oil tanker Capricorn near the entrance to Tampa Bay.

Flores and another crewman stayed aboard the sinking cutter, throwing life jackets to guardsmen who had jumped into the water. When his companion left the ship, Flores remained behind, using his belt to hold open the door of the locker where the life jackets were stored.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. John Ryan, among 27 survivors, is convinced that Flores saved his life when the ship capsized over him. Flores and 22 others died.

"I was injured with a sprained back and an injured shoulder," Ryan said in a Coast Guard publication.

"As I struggled, suddenly a life jacket ... came floating up to me. It is a fitting tribute to his heroism that a cutter bear his name."

Some of the 27 survivors pushed for Flores to receive a posthumous Coast Guard Medal, the highest award for noncombat heroism. His family accepted the medal Sept. 16, 2000, during a ceremony at the Benbrook Cemetery, where he is buried.

His father, Robert Flores, who attended with his wife, five surviving sons and his grandson, said William died doing what he wanted to do. "He wanted to save lives," Robert Flores said. "He got that chance."

Martha Deller, 817-390-7857