But in a country grappling with the past — particularly the iron-fisted rule of the military junta that had taken Argentina to war on April 2, 1982 — not everything has been what it seems when it comes to the men who fought in the Falklands.
And so it was with Giachino, who before bleeding to death in a firefight with Royal Marines had been a henchman and interrogator in Argentina’s military dictatorship.
“We didn’t know the full story then, that the officers who were there had also been the ones who led the local task forces,” said Anahi Marroche, 58, referring to the secretive intelligence teams that killed thousands of Argentines, including her brother. “We began to discover the two sides of the story much later.”
As Argentina has in recent years put on trial figures from the dictatorship, which ended in 1983, stories have begun to emerge about how some of those accused of human rights abuses had been heroes in the Falklands, which Argentines call Las Malvinas.
They had served a junta that seized power in a 1976 coup and then ruthlessly rounded up suspected leftist guerrillas and their sympathizers. Human rights groups say as many as 30,000 people were killed, having been shot and buried in unmarked graves or sedated and tossed from planes over the Atlantic.
With Argentina’s economy unraveling and its leaders condemned internationally for rights abuses, the junta launched an invasion of the Falklands to unify the country and solidify popular support. When Britain won 74 days later, reclaiming the islands and leaving Argentina’s military government weaker then ever, Argentines began to question what had gone wrong.
New details quickly surfaced about some of those who had fought, such as Alfredo Astiz, a navy commando whose face was splashed on newspapers worldwide after his surrender to British forces. Victims who recognized him soon came forward to describe how Astiz had infiltrated a human rights group in the 1970s, leading to the abduction of three of its founders and two French nuns.
More recently, Vice Adm. Carlos Busser, who oversaw the landings of Argentine troops on the Falklands, has faced charges of torture and disappearances. Horacio Losito, a highly decorated officer who was badly injured in combat, went to prison in 2008 for his role in a 1976 massacre.
Today in democratic Argentina, people overwhelmingly condemn the military dictatorship. But the disclosures about many officers who went to war have been awkward, especially now as President Cristina Fernandez renews a diplomatic effort to press Britain into negotiating the future of the islands.
While lobbying for harsh sentences against military men convicted of crimes, the president has also extolled “those on whose chests shine medals, the decorations they won with honor and bravery on the field of battle.”