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Wartime Mystery Solved

by Sheri Baker

Wartime Mystery Disappearance Solved Fifty Years Later

Young Walter McHenry of Somonauk had wanderlust. After graduating from high school in 1940, according to the Somonauk Reveille newspaper, he tried to enlist in different branches of the service but was rejected because of poor eyesight. Walter wasn’t deterred. Something drew him to New Orleans, LA where he obtained a position of cabin boy on the merchant ship Miraflores.

The Miraflores was a freighter owned by the British Standard Fruit and Steamship Company. Its usual route took it between New Orleans and Central America, carrying fruit, coconuts and cashews. On February 6, 1942, the freighter left New Orleans enroute to Haiti. However, upon arriving in Haiti, the captain was ordered to load the freighter and sail to New York. The ship disappeared and wasn’t found for 50 years.

The website http://njscuba.net/sites/siteMiraflores.html reports, “By the 20th of February 1942, the S. S. Miraflores failed to report in New York and it was soon evident that her loss was to remain a mystery until investigations by the U. S. government after the war. Even then it was deduced that the ship was torpedoed, but the exact location was based on speculation. It remained that way for several decades. Families would find few answers if any from the shipping company or from any government agencies”.

The Miraflores was about 55 miles east of Cape May, NJ on February 19th, 1942, when a German submarine, identified as U-432, sunk the vessel in the early morning hours taking Walter and thirty-three merchant sailors to their death. German records available after the war, don’t identify the ship as the Miraflores, but gives the date and a vague description of a ship on which they fired two torpedoes. An aggressive Nazi program meant to frighten American citizens resulted in 348 ships sunk off the east coast between February and May 1942. The wreckage was discovered in 1992 by a fisherman scanning the ocean bottom for clams. For two years the site was explored and 1994 a wreck diver, Jim Bowen, recovered a helm with an identifying serial number. The Miraflores mystery was solved.  

Walter’s parents, Fred and Jeanette McHenry, would never find out what happened to their son.  Both died prior to the site's discovery.