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I thought you wreck researchers would like to read about this connection with a World War II veteran from Livingston, Texas.  Talking to Walter over the past year I was touched by how his decision to enlist in the military changed his life.  Read this article from the Polk County Newspaper.  A few minor discrepancies are in the article but there is a happy ending.

Polk County, Texas
SS. Miraflores Mystery Ship Survivor
by Lynn Brown

LIVINGSTON, TEXAS – Walt Autry is the last known living survivor of a ship surrounded in mystery for decades.  In June the mystery unraveled leading directly to Polk County and Autry.
Walter Thomas Autry was born in Arkansas, but lived in many places.  His father died when he was 2 years old and his mother moved often to find employment.  The family moved every two to three years according to Autry and lived about six years in New York.
Walt began working at an early age and at 17 he signed on with the crew of a merchant steamship.
The ship was owned by Vaccaro Fruit Lines and transported fruit every two weeks from ports in Central America, Honduras, Haiti and Mexico to ports in Philadelphia, New York, Galveston, New Orleans and Houston.
The key cargo was bananas and  Walt refers to it as a "banana boat."
The S.S. Miraflores called Kingston, Jamaica its home port and many of the crew were from Jamaica.  Autry joined the crew at New Orleans in 1941.
Walt spent nine months on the ship gaining steamer experience and earning a firefighter certificate.
He was already thinking about joining the Navy when he left the S.S. Miraflores crew and returned to Louisiana.
On Feb. 19, 1942, the S.S. Miraflores steamer was close to its destination of New York off the New Jersey coast when it disappeared.
A wreck diving party found the S.S. Miraflores some 50 years later.
Divers gave  the following description of a likely scenario for the last few minutes of life for the Miraflores crew:
"In the darkness of the cold winter morning, the stealthy German submarine U-432 follows a silhouette of a lone freighter steaming north 55 miles east of Cape May, New Jersey.  The order to man the battle stations is relayed to the crew.
"On board the steamer most of the crew are off-duty, settled in their bunks sleeping in the early morning hours.  The drone of the pounding steam engine is abruptly interrupted by the detonation of two torpedoes that slam into the targeted ship.
Within minutes the pressure of the seawater draws the tortured hull to the sandy bottom.  Thirty-four merchant sailors were lost without a word or warning.
Only a short entry in the German U-boat log gives a vague description of the victim with no name.
The next day the S.S. Miraflores was reported missing after failing to reach its destination."
U-boats and submarines frequented the waters along the East coast from 1939 when World War II began in Europe with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany.
The United States remained neutral until drawn into the world conflict by the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.  War was declared against Japan on Dec. 8.  On Dec. 11, Germany and Italy declared war against the United States.
Walt Autry was lying on the living room floor listening to the radio in Louisiana when he heard about the Pearl Harbor attack.  He was 18 years old and  Walt was among thousands of other young American men joining the armed forces.
Also, like many other young Americans, Walt had to ask his mother to sign his enlistment papers.
His first Navy tour from 1941-1945. "This was the start of a completely new and different life for me," Autry remembers.
On the merchant steamship Autry was a steam engineer, but the Navy decided that he should learn diesel engineering and sent him to the University of Houston to train.
At a university dance Autry met Loraine, his "heart throb."  They married in April 1943.  While attending UH Autry also attended deep sea diving school.
After diving school, Autry was sent to New York to begin salvage work on the Normandy. which was also sank by Germans in New York Harbor.
The Navy intended to refurbish the ship into an auxiliary aircraft carrier.  Autry and the diving crew broke through ice to dive to the ship, building a coffer dam to raise the 10,000-foot ship.
 German divers sneaked into the harbor again and blew up the coffer dam and the Normandy was doomed. Divers were able to salvage some wreckage for use as scrap metal.
Soon after, Autry was sent to Maryland to be commissioned as acting chief engineer on the L.C.I. 688 (Landing Craft Infantry).  He and others trained for three weeks before transferring to Norfolk, Va. in 1944.
Autry was ready to get in the war and his ship set out to New Guinea, the Marshall, Admiralties and Philippine Islands.  The crew of the LCI 688 carried soldiers and supplies in and out of battle, acted in numerous rescues, battled fires and performed salvage operations.
The LCI 688 landed Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the Lagonoy Gulf on Luzon Island. One harbor was "a grim sight, sunken ships were everywhere," Autry remembers. "Some of the ships were partly above the water.  On some of these ships the Japanese set up machine gun nests — making our job of getting supplies ashore very hazardous. We would locate and clean them out, but during the night the Japanese would swim out and set up new guns again. They were everywhere."
Autry has some interesting souvenirs from his war experiences and stories to go along with them.
He has some funny-looking money that GI's found when they retook the Philippines.
After the city of Manila was secured, the Filipino people went through all the buildings that the Japanese had occupied.
They found money Japanese had printed for other countries they intended to overtake.  The U.S. was one of the countries they planned to capture and occupy.
Autry swapped a pair of dungarees for the Japanese money he keeps among his war memorabilia.
On Sept. 1, 1945 the LCI 688 was ordered to Okinawa.
The next day the Japanese surrendered.  Autry recalls the crew shot flares from the decks to celebrate the victory.
A couple of months later Walt was discharged and sent home.  He recalls seeing Loraine and his 18-month-old daughter as a great moment.  His daughter, Diane, was born while he was away helping to win the war.
Autry joined the Naval Reserve in 1947 and in 1951 was called to duty for the Korean War.  He was stationed in the Philippine Islands and worked in Subic Bay repairing damaged ships above and below the waters.  He was discharged and returned home in 1952.
Autry took part in many battles and has many war stories.  One of the most life-changing events in his life is the decision to leave the merchant ship S.S. Miraflores to join the Navy in 1941.
He began his seafaring days on that merchant ship.  His decision to leave the "banana boat" for service in the Navy saved his life.
A wreck diving team led by Gene Peterson of New Jersey found the ship on the bottom of the Atlantic.
Peterson found it in 1994 in 165 feet of water.
Peterson researches each of  the wrecks he locates and attempt to track down former  crew members.
He found Autry in 2007 and has concluded that Walt is the only living survivor of the S.S. Miraflores crews.  In June 2007 Peterson's crew placed flowers over the site and offered a moment of silence at the historic wreck.
Peterson and his crew retrieved a piece of the deck from the wreck and sent it to Autry  this summer.
The piece of wood is "probably teak and in surprisingly good condition considering it has been buried on the bottom of the Atlantic for so many years," Autry said
He is happy to have this piece of history in his collection, because the experience and decisions he made while working around that piece of wood have shaped his life

Good Wreck Diving!
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