Marcos Miguel Irrazabal was living with his family outside Buenos Aires when he was drafted, quickly trained and shipped with thousands of other teen-aged Argentine men to fight an unlikely war on the Falkland Islands.
Now, lying on his back in an Army hospital near here, clad in a blue gown pinched at one shoulder and fingering the specially designed utensil he uses to eat, Irrazabal is filled with sad puzzlement over the battle that cost him his left arm.
"I try not to think about it. I try to forget it all," he said recently, an awkward smile spreading over his smooth, beardless face. "The truth is I don't know why it happened. The soldiers, the English and the Argentines were alike, neither them nor us wanted the war."
Around him in the hospital at the main Army base of Campo de Mayo are dozens of other 18- and 19-year-old veterans, who, also marked by bullets and shrapnel, say they feel little bitterness toward Britain but have some second thoughts about the value of Argentina's first modern military adventure.
"It's a difficult question" whether Argentina should return to fight for the Falklands; "it makes me feel bad," said Gustavo Paganelli, a wiry-haired 20-year-old who was hit in the back by mortar fragments. "When I went to the Malvinas Falklands , I felt a little fear, I wanted to live . . . . But it was different. I wouldn't like to see that again. I wouldn't put myself in that position of having to go."
The saddened judgments of the wounded, portrayed only months ago as inspired young men eager to defend the fatherland, reflect a common sentiment three weeks after Argentina learned its patriotic cause in the South Atlantic had collapsed.
Although the 149-year-old claim to the Falklands still has overwhelming national support, enthusiasm for war and sacrifice appears to have melted away as quickly as it erupted here in the early weeks of April.
Former president Leopoldo Galtieri and his foreign minister, Nicanor Costa Mendez, have vanished from public view and discussion only weeks after they promised the nation would fight for decades and lose thousands of lives, if necessary, for Argentina to recapture of the Falklands. In the media, attention has already shifted to new issues and causes--the sagging economy, the border dispute with Chile and the promised democratic government.
And although the Army administration of Reynaldo Bignone has refused, for reasons of diplomatic strategy, to announce formally a cessation of hostilities in the South Atlantic, few here seem to believe that Argentina will fight again. "If you told an average Argentine that a bombing raid had been carried out on the Malvinas today, he'd be totally shocked," remarked one diplomat this week.
For the 233 wounded Army soldiers who remain in the Campo de Mayo hospital, it is difficult to forget so quickly the crisis and pain of the last few months.
"Everyone thought one thing was going to happen and, well, other things resulted," said Daniel Ramos, who remains covered by a body cast one month after he was shot in the arm. "For me, it wasn't worth it."
Yet, many of the soldiers show little bitterness toward either their former enemies or the government. Instead, they talk of a future they hope will bring peace, jobs and a more unified nation as a result of their efforts.
"I think it will have served to make the country more unified," said Paganelli. "We will recover, and we will feel stronger for it. It has made me stronger, more of a man."
"The area where we were is horrible," he said of the desolate, marshy ground over which Argentina and Britain bitterly fought.
But, like most of the soldiers in his ward, Paganelli was reluctant to complain about the provisions of food, arms and clothing he had from the Argentine Army. After returning conscripts widely voiced bitter complaints of shortages and logistical failures in the first weeks after the defeat, Army officials began angrily denying such problems and there were reports in media circles here that some veterans had been threatened or punished for speaking out.
"We ate well," Paganelli said, "though of course it was not like eating in one's home. Of course that's not possible."
For one officer in the ward, both the soldiers' complaints and the idea of Argentina's defeat remain unacceptable. "What we lost was the combat, not the war," said Sgt. Raul Solis, a nine-year Army veteran who was shot in the arm during a skirmish outside Stanley.
Like many regular Army men, Solis still blames Britain's greater firepower and the logistical help of the United States for Argentina's loss, and is certain that the official account of heavy British losses--including some 2,500 casualties--is correct.
"When I leave [here], I will prepare to go back," Solis said. "The next time, it will be victory or death."
For the younger conscripts, however, the official accounts and solemn determination seem to have been largely left behind.