The photo of Eleodoro Monzón’s tomb takes up an entire page in Clarín, a major Argentine newspaper. His sister Mirta is proudly posing with the newspaper while talking to a Sputnik correspondent about her impressions of the momentous visit on March 26.
Eleodoro was one of 22 soldiers from the province of Chaco who had lost their lives on the Falklands, which many Argentines call "Las Hermanitas" (“Sisters”). Their remains have finally been identified at the cemetery on the Soledad Island. Mirta recalls that her brother had left home at the age of 19 to perform his military service in Tierra del Fuego.
“He was very pleased, we never thought he wouldn’t come back. This wound will never heal,” she says with emotion and tears in her eyes.
“My parents suffered greatly after my brother’s death, this drove both of them to the grave, first dad and then mom. Now that the DNA test has been done and the remains have been identified I wish my mother was still alive. She suffered more acutely than others because she didn’t know where he was. But I am sure she would be happy to know that I went to him,” Mirta muttered.
After the war in 1982, the British Colonel Geoffrey Cardozo was responsible for collecting the bodies from various battlefields and their dignified burial. His work was crucial for identifying those who were killed during the military conflict. He was joined by a veteran from the 6th Regiment of Mercedes and founder of the social organization «No me оlvides» (“Don’t forget me”) the Argentine Julio Aro. This organization has helped to bring together relatives, journalists, former combatants, politicians and even international organizations to identify the buried bodies.
The bodies were finally identified through an agreement between Argentina and the United Kingdom, with the help of the International Red Cross, forensic scientists from 12 countries and three laboratories in Argentina, the UK and Spain. The project was supported by one of the founders of the British rock group Pink Floyd, Roger Waters. Thanks to all these efforts, 88 DNA matches were found in 121 unmarked graves.
This trip turned out to be “very painful” for Mirta, because as she said “he was my brother, we used to play and go to school together. We were naughty and then suddenly he left us and we never saw him again.”
Eleodoro was killed on June 14, 1982 at the end of the war on Sapper Hill where a small squadron of Argentine soldiers had continued to resist the British and inflicted heavy losses on them.
“I remember military officers came to our house, my father came towards them, then he called my mother. When we looked through the door we saw them hugging and crying. We did not know what was going on, it was a terrible sight, I will never forget it. I will also never forget my mom’s despondent screams after she was told that her son was missing,” Mirta recalls and adds that her mother was never the same afterwards. She kept thinking that Eleodoro might be alive.
In December 2017 she got confirmation that her brother’s remains were buried somewhere in Darwin. “I’ve been crying for the whole week looking at his things. They found the small icon of the Virgin Mary which my mother had sent him. And it was so awful,” she confesses.
Mirta has already been to the Malvinas, but this time she came with her son Facundo. “For two hours I’ve been crying at the cemetery, talking to him, complaining of how he could have left me when I was so young. Thank God, now he has his own cross and headstone,” Mirta said. During the last visit she cried near all the crosses because she didn’t know which one was her brother’s.
Orlando Ramírez also found out the place where his brother’s body had been buried. He was 11 when he saw him alive for the last time. It was in San Bernardo, a town located 260 kilometers from Resistencia, the capital of Chaco.
Rubén Norberto Ramírez went to the Falklands when he was 18 as a rifleman of the 12th mechanized infantry regiment and was killed there in May 1982. He was the eldest of the eight children and the only one who helped his father in the field.
“My parents had made all the necessary papers to defer him from service, but he joined the army anyway, then the war began and he had the misfortune to find himself right there,” he recollects.
“He died being sure that they had maintained the truce with the British squadron. But when they had surrendered, the bombs began to fall on their heads and all of them were killed,” Orlando recollects.
In 2009 Orlando visited the Darwin cemetery for the first time. He didn’t find the name of Rubén Norberto on any of the over 200 white crosses. “We were told to choose any cross and mourn at an unmarked grave,” he recalls. Now Orlando remembers that at that time he had stopped just a few meters from the place his brother was actually buried.
For Orlando the most emotional moment of this visit was seeing the mothers of other soldiers who came to their children’s graves for the first time in over three decades.
“My parents died without ever knowing anything about Rubén. My mother died being sure that he was alive, she had been waiting for him up to the last minute. I am sure that both of them had been watching us from heaven when the remains were identified,” the man said.
Ana Monzón, sister of Juan Carlos Monzón, also came from Chaco. She had already been to the Falklands in 2009 but did not find her brother’s name at the cemetery at the time.
In 2012 her family was informed that they may go through DNA testing to identify the remains and they agreed. “We wanted to have the name of our brother on the tomb and now we thank God that he is lying in the grave bearing his own name,” Ana said.
Juan Carlos served in the 12th mechanized infantry regiment of the province of Corrientes. Ana recalls that the family had eight brothers and sisters, who worked in the fields picking corn and cotton. She was very small when her brother went off to fight in the war.
“We had been sending letters but didn’t know whether he received them or not. When the war had begun, my parents were told that he was killed in combat,” she recalls.
This trip was a special one, because when Ana came here earlier the crosses bore no names. “It was encouraging to see people with a rosary, flowers and know that next time we could definitely find the place where our brother lies.”
Olga Genes is the sister of Ramón Gumercindo Acosta, a sergeant who fought on the Malvinas and died at the age of 42. According to Olga, they couldn’t identify his body as an Englishman had taken his badge as a war trophy.
Olga has already been to the Falklands, but this trip is "a relief to the heart, because it closes a wound." Her niece, Ramón's daughter, accompanied her on the trip.
Acosta received the Combat Valor medal for his heroic action on May 30, 1982, when his helicopter was attacked by the British and he managed to save the lives of several comrades, but on June 10 his patrol was ambushed by British troops in the vicinity of Mount Kent, where he was mortally wounded.
From the Falklands he managed to write to his son: "Two days ago I was in a helicopter and they bombarded us, the helicopter went down and caught fire, several of my comrades died but I survived and now we’re waiting for the final attack. I saved three people from the fire. I am telling you so that you know that you have a father that you can feel proud of (…) We will not surrender, we will fight to the end and if God and the Virgin allow us to be saved, we’ll survive. We’re encircled now and let it be what God and the Virgin want, pray for our victory."
Ana María Spanghero is the widow of Miguel Aguirre, a merchant marine who enlisted as a volunteer; he was managing the machine room on the ARA Isla de los Estados, a ship that carried supplies, food and medicines. On May 10, 1982 the English frigate HMS Alacrity sank it in the Strait of San Carlos. Only two of its 25 crew members survived. Approximately 15 civilians died on board.
"We always thought that his grave was the sea, but something incomprehensible happened," says Ana María, 82 years old. His son Sergio had submitted blood for a DNA test in order to rule out that his father's body was among the unidentified corpses of Darwin's cemetery. But on December 6, 2017, they received the news: “They had my husband’s body that we’ve never thought was in the ground,” Ana María told Sputnik.
The ocean currents dragged him to the coast and on August 22, 1982 Geoffrey Cardozo found his body and specified where it had happened. Having received the news, Sergio began to study marine currents and realized that the point where they sank the ship was almost in a straight line with the site where they found his father’s body. “My husband was a civilian and he didn’t have any distinguishing badges,” Ana María recalls.
"From the moment the body was found we felt peace in our souls which we didn’t feel before," she said with relief.
The Falklands War is vividly remembered among Argentines. On April, 2 they’ll celebrate the anniversary of the D-Day of the Argentinian troops that were trying to regain control over the islands occupied by the English since 1833. Two months after the start of the war, on June 14, 1982, having lost 649 people, Argentina waived the flag of surrender. However there still remain the traces of that conflict. On the eve of this new anniversary, many of the relatives are still asking questions. Mirta Monzón is one of those still struggling to understand the conflict.
"What were they thinking of at that moment? They were so young, about 18 years old; my brother had never touched a gun. He sacrificed himself defending that land. We grew up in the fields and we knew what work and effort mean; my father got up really early in the mornings. I guess, that’s why my brother gave everything to defend that piece of land,” Monzón says trying to understand what happened to Eleodoro 36 years ago.
That land still remains in Argentina’s heart.