Porteño Corner: Ezequiel Martel
Air Force Reserve Officer/PR and Electronic Warfare Dept.
Q: So, for people who aren’t familiar with your story we’ll rehash it. Your father, Capt. Rubén Martel was killed in the Malvinas-Falklands War in 1982 while serving in the Argentine Air Force. You were only ten months old.
Last year, on the Metro 95.1 radio program, Perros de La Calle (audio in Spanish), you talked for the first time to the British pilot, Nigel Ward, who shot down your father’s airplane. Since then you’ve maintained a friendly relationship with him.
At first, it is a bit surprising that you would have sought out Nigel Ward, or that you wanted to talk to him, how did that come about?
I first was interviewed on the program in early April of last year about the story of my father. When they discovered that I knew who had killed my father from seeing his photo in a book one time, they asked me if I wanted to talk to Nigel, if they could reach him. I said ‘Yes.’
So they arranged the on-air interview a few weeks later. I wanted to talk to him. It was opportunity to understand the details of what happened to my dad.
• Some have said that the shooting down of your father’s plane wasn’t honorable, or didn’t fall within the guidelines of war, because the Hercules plane your dad piloted didn’t have the capacity to save itself and had already suffered damage when Ward fired the cannons. What do you think about this now and how did you overcome that to talk to Ward?
It’s war, so air force, naval — all are susceptible. In this case my dad was on a reconnaissance mission and he was inside the area of war. They didn’t have any fallen soldiers on-board or anything, so it was fair game. My dad’s plane was a threat to the British soldiers since it was conducting a spy mission.
They criticized Nigel, because he threw one missile that injured the plane but then he threw the cannons and it was in this moment that my dad’s plane lost stability, inclined and started to fall in a spiral. Everyone died upon impact with the water.
Seven died in total and my father was the commander.
• But on the first interview with Perros de La Calle — before you spoke with Ward you mentioned that you had read his book, ‘Sea Harrier Over the Falklands: A Maverick at War.’ At that time you said it seemed unfair that his plane threw the cannons because your dad’s plane was already on fire, and those onboard might have had a chance to survive.
I was angry at the time — the kind of anger one would have in this situation, knowing that he left me without dad. But after talking with him, and hearing him explain the situation and ask for my forgiveness, I accepted it. He gave me his email address and we’ve remained in contact.
Since then he’s sent me a second copy of the book, Sea Harrier over the Falklands: The Black Death as a present.
The surprise was that in the dedication of the book he mentioned my dad, Rubén Martel. He also wrote that after 29 years he had the chance to meet me and that we stay in contact.
He also put four photos in the book: a wreath that he sent in honor of my dad with a dedication banner, a photo of my dad, a photo of me in front of the type of plane that my dad flew, and one of me in a flight suit in front of the memorial for my father in Palomar.
• How did your sisters and mother feel about you having a conversation with that British soldier who killed your dad?
They were fine with it. It was emotional. Most of all peace came from knowing that my dad died doing what he loved to do.
• The comments on the article about your story that came out in the daily newspaper, La Nación, were very diverse and interesting.
One of them reads, “It’s understood that they killed his father in the war. What is difficult to understand is why he would cultivate a relationship with the man who killed him. It’s an asymmetrical relationship with erroneous motives.”
What do you think about that comment?
There are people that are still resentful about the war. They would have to walk a mile in my shoes to understand where the impulse came from.
They criticize me because I talked with the man who killed my father. What I always try to get across is: What would have happened if I had been in his place? What if I had to do something even worse, and then, in the future, the kids looked for me? I would have to respond. It was a war. It was what he had to do. It was his job.
Unfortunately, the warplanes and ships don’t pilot themselves — there are people at the helm of the craft. It helped me to receive the explanation from him that he was just following orders.
Today I could go to a bar and have a beer with him. What he did, he did because he was ordered to do so.
• Did you ever get in contact with the colleagues of your father? It seems like it would be more comforting to speak with people who knew him rather than the pilot who killed him.
The colleagues of my father weren’t concerned. They ignore the kids who lost their parents in the war. They discriminate. I have a connection to Nigel. Out of all the people, he was the one who wanted to know how I was doing and how my family was, when the others didn’t.
• Who are ‘the others’ in this case?
The armed forces and the government. I’m one person who suffered, but there are many more like me.
• Do you plan to continue in the armed forces for your whole career?
I think I will stay in the force for a few more years and then I’m going to do something else. It’s been 11 years since I’ve served in the Air Force so far.
• How do you like working in the Argentine armed services? Is it a good career?
I‘m proud of being in the military. I am where my dad was.
The number one function is to protect the country. There are peace missions. Operationally speaking, we have a good relationship with England.
• You are also a pilot. Do you get to fly a lot for your job?
Yes, but a lot of what my job entails I’m not at liberty to talk about.
• Can you talk about the state of the Argentine Armed Forces today, compared to the ‘70s and ‘80s when the war was going on?
Compared with then we have declined a lot. There is a hatred of the military because of the ‘70s.
I was born in ‘81, so I have nothing to do with the military of the ‘70s. It’s common in this country — among Argentines — to generalize to the extreme.
• What is your opinion about the Malvinas-Falklands conflict today?
Personally, I feel this government is becoming very similar to that of ‘82. And that was a military government — now we have one that is democratic. Instead of being more humane about it, they are attacking the British. We need to respect each other.
I remember that time the president criticized Prince William when he was sent to the Malvinas. This was a perfect example of the government painting itself as the victim. The president said that he came in the uniform of a conquistador (conqueror), but it was the same bomber jacket that I wear to fly.
The president’s comments were out of line and lacking respect for the prince. He could one day be the person to decide that they are returning the Malvinas to Argentina – you never know.
• What do you think of the controversial new video that shows Argentine athletes training in the Malvinas, doing push ups on a British war memorial and that ends with the words, ‘To compete on English soil in the 2012 Olympics, we’re training on Argentine soil’?
Pathetic. The government says it doesn’t want to attack England but that is exactly what they are doing with this video.
• What do you think should happen with the Malvinas? What about auto-determination — the idea that the islanders should decide for themselves what they want to do?
I think understanding and respect is what is needed. Kelpers (as those from the Falkland Islands are called) complain about Argentina and I understand and respect this, but they shouldn’t forget that Argentina helped them before the war.
If the current government could lessen the tone of the propaganda, relations with them might be better.
• How do you feel if you hear someone refer to the Malvinas as the Falklands? Most of the foreigners here learn that Falklands is a ‘bad word’ in Argentina.
It’s okay for the British to say it — to them it is the Falklands. I say Malvinas-Falklands. That’s better than saying Falkland-Malvinas.
• Can you explain how the situation is for veterans of the Malvinas? Not long ago they were engaging in protests on 9 de Julio. Are they treated justly?
There was never help for them. Everyone is talking about the Malvinas, but I don’t know exactly how much help they receive. For many people in the government it is in their favor to bring attention to the issue, to use it to try and leverage more power, but it’s all talk.
• So you don’t think the government would ever take military action again over the Malvinas?
No way, they don’t even have the capacity.
• What do you believe is the government’s motive in using the Malvinas for political leverage, as you say, while not giving much attention to the children of dead soldiers or veterans?
Because the current government is anti-military. They are the victims and those of us in the armed services are the bad people. But I’m a service member and I have nothing to do with the generation of the junta (military rule).
• What do you want to do with your life after you leave the Air Force?
I want to continue growing, as a citizen, a person, a human being. I would maybe like to enter into politics. I want to be at peace more than anything.
I would like to continue to bring attention to the Malvinas, for the kids who lost their parents. The soldiers who died were the parents of a lot of kids. It doesn’t reach the hearts of many people. The war was painful, but I’d like to ease the pain of the situation in order to go forward with a respect and caring that hasn’t yet arrived. I admire the U.S. because there is a lot of respect and love for their soldiers lost in war.
• Except for those who came home after the Vietnam War, as you probably know. Do you see a correlation between those soldiers and veterans of the Malvinas?
Yes, they are united in that.
• You clearly are not a fan of the president and current administration. Considering that, as an active member of the Air Force, what would you do if you were called to war? Perhaps for a cause you didn’t support?
I would go. I would defend my country and the flag. I wouldn’t go for her, but for my country.
• What is your relationship with Nigel Ward like today?
I ‘m really at peace now. I am enjoying the relationship with him.
We’ve shared things. His aviator call sign is ‘Sharkey.’ Mine is ‘Facha’ because they say I’m a fachero (good-looking) and also because there is an actor who has the same last name as me who is called Adrian ‘Facha’ Martel.
At one point on the radio program Nigel said to me, “Ezequiel is an officer and a gentleman.” That he said that to me bowled me over. It flipped a switch for me.
He said things that even the people here have never said. It comforted me. He left me without a dad, but he said that I’m an officer and a gentleman and it meant a lot.
• After the various comments that you’ve received including those in La Nación, what do you want people to know about your story, what would you like to add?
I am very happy that people demonstrated so much caring after the programs were aired. I want to thank the people that commented on the articles.
The story of Nigel and me can help to ease the drama over the conflict and the war to try and arrive at better communicate. Mine is only one little, tiny story related to the Malvinas, there are many more. The Malvinas War should have more of a place in the national discourse.
It was a huge battle. The air force lost planes. The navy lost important ships such as the General Belgrano.
From a place of humility my desire is that that the national discussion about it grows and doesn’t stay stagnant, like it is today.