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A goodbye that waited 40 years: the exciting visit of Artuso’s children to their father’s grave in the Georgian Islands

Artuso’s children visit their father’s grave in the Georgian Islands

On April 25, 1982, the British took control of the Georgias. The next day John Cowardcaptain of the destroyer HMS Brilliant, indicated to the commanding officer Horace Bicaín, commander of the Santa Fe Submarine, to remove the ship from the dock because it hindered the operations of English ships. She was leaning to port and with her bow raised and posed a latent danger due to the explosives she was carrying.

Félix Artuso was a machinist on the Santa Fe submarine, which participated in the Malvinas war.  He had an incomprehensible death.
Félix Artuso was a machinist on the Santa Fe submarine, which participated in the Malvinas war. He had an incomprehensible death.

Half a dozen Argentines were assigned to take him off the pier. One of them was Felix Oscar Artuso, a 36-year-old petty officer first machinist who, when he was summoned, said goodbye to the family with the conviction that he would not return. With the Argentines, the British boarded the ship, who had the order to avoid any maneuver that would take the submersible to the bottom of the sea forever.

The Santa Fe was not in its best condition. It had set sail from Mar del Plata on April 16, it had 23 torpedoes and during the voyage it had failures in its systems. She had arrived in the Georgias at midnight on April 24. Damaged by British helicopters, her turret had been pierced by a missile, causing Corporal Alberto Macias lose his leg. The ship had several shrapnel impacts.

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A tribute that waited 40 years.  Cristian, who was 8 years old when his father went to war, finally visits where he was buried.  (Courtesy of the Artuso Family/Sergio Fernández)
A tribute that waited 40 years. Cristian, who was 8 years old when his father went to war, finally visits where he was buried. (Courtesy of the Artuso Family/Sergio Fernández)

From the command bridge, the Argentine commander, accompanied by a Briton, gave instructions to the personnel. When the submarine suddenly listed, Artuso he made quick key movements to stabilize it, but they were interpreted by a British man as an attempt at sabotage and he shot him dead.

It was a war crime that the English interpret as a regrettable mistake.

Karina Artuso, the middle daughter, was said to be the father's closest friend.  (Courtesy Artuso Family / Sergio Fernández).
Karina Artuso, the middle daughter, was said to be the father’s closest friend. (Courtesy Artuso Family / Sergio Fernández).

Artuso he was buried at Grytviken with military honours. And since then his children Christian, Karina Y Carolinawho at the time of the war were 8, 6 and two years old respectively, set out to do the impossible: travel to those lost islands in the South Atlantic, 1,300 kilometers southeast of the Falklands, to visit the grave. Alicia, Artuso’s wife passed away a few years ago, and he has two sisters, who were in no condition to travel. A third, Josephinewho also died, made innumerable trips to Buenos Aires to achieve the long-awaited visit.

In commemoration of his death, April 26 was instituted as the Day of the Machinist of the Argentine Navy. Artuso was decorated with the medal “The Argentine Nation for those killed in combat” and declared, by law, a national hero.

In 2013, the Malvinas War Veterans Association was established, chaired by retired Brigadier General Sergio Fernandezwho during the conflict was, as a first lieutenant, head of a section of the 601 Commando Company. Determined to reactivate pending issues, this association set out to find a solution to travel to the grave of the only fallen on the ground that had not yet been able to be visited.

Carolina Artuso, the youngest daughter.
Carolina Artuso, the youngest daughter.

First, the negotiations were informal and in 2017 they were received by Mark Kent, then British ambassador in our country. Both parties knew that the trip would not be easy because it is a destination that is not regularly visited or that is within normal trade routes. The position of the members of the association was not to travel on an English-flagged ship.

There were innumerable meetings, where doubts were cleared up and consensus was sought. He was also interested in the Minister of Defense and the Malvinas Secretary of the Argentine Foreign Ministry.

Artuso's burial in April 1982. The coffin is not covered by the Argentine flag.
Artuso’s burial in April 1982. The coffin is not covered by the Argentine flag.

Last year the Argentines proposed to the English that the children of Artuso They traveled on the icebreaker Almirante Irízar, for the summer campaign that the ship would undertake in Antarctica.

The answer was negative.

The matter had reached an impasse. Sergio Fernandez used to talk to Karina Artuso, the most sidekick of his dad. The woman was initially disbelieving and incredulous, to the point that she did not reveal to her brothers that she was talking about the possibility of traveling. He did it almost at the last moment..

When there seemed to be no solution, Marcelo Bernardisa renowned marathon runner, called Fernández and told him of his intention to go to the Georgias to pay tribute. “God sends you”he replied.

They would go with Quark, a Canadian cruise company, which with the Ocean Diamond ship, would leave Ushuaia, make Georgias and the Antarctic Peninsula. The company highlights the archipelago’s wildlife, glaciers, fjords, Salisbury Plain monarch penguins and elephant seals, promoting it as “the Galapagos of the South Pole”.

A well-deserved tribute: in the De Bernardis center, next to him are Admiral Martin, Alberto Macías and Cobos Porta.  (Courtesy Marcelo de Bernardis).
A well-deserved tribute: in the De Bernardis center, next to him are Admiral Martin, Alberto Macías and Cobos Porta. (Courtesy Marcelo de Bernardis).

The new difficulty was facing the costs of the tickets: each one was worth $14,500 (at June prices), a real fortune for a veterans’ association that maintains itself with a minimum fee from its members. When all the doors had closed in the search for financing or donations, the company told them that would take the three brothers free of charge.

Navy personnel brought them to Buenos Aires. From there on December 3 they flew to Ushuaia, where they embarked. “Cristian, Karina and Carolina experienced it with great emotion, it was a unique moment in their lives.”

Finally yesterday Sunday was the visit to the grave. After disembarking, they passed through Salisbury Plain and from there to Gritviken and its graveyard, where Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton is also buried.

The children put a single condition: to be alone for a moment with the three of them.

They brought two plaques, one with their names and the other an acrylic photo of their dad. It is what is allowed by current provisions, more than anything for environmental care.

After the private visit, five Argentines paid tribute: Marcelo de Bernardis, an Army reserve officer, and three war veterans: Admiral Daniel Martin, Corporal Alberto Macías, both from the Santa Fe submarine, and Daniel Cobos Porta, from the Guerrico corvette. The contingent was completed by the son of Admiral Martin.

On the grave they displayed an Argentine flag, which had a profound meaning: when the English buried him, they did not cover the coffin with any Argentine flag, despite the fact that the one carried by the submarine was available.

With a recording, a bugle played to silence.

Late in the afternoon, they embarked and left for Antarctica. The three brothers fulfilled a wish that had been going on for forty years: to say goodbye to their father.

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