Graham Ellis was a 20-year-old member of Arbroath-based 45 Commando, which was fighting at the Battle of Two Sisters in June 1982, when he and other marines were ordered to remove the tags from bodies for identification later on by the Red Cross. His patrol then came under attack and he forgot about the tag in his pocket, only discovering it on his way back to Britain.
Ellis’s recent research on the internet revealed the dog tag belonged to Ramón Gumersindo Acosta, who died, aged 42, and was a member of an elite corps equivalent to the SAS. Assistant Sergeant Acosta, a member of Special Troops Company 601, was later made a national hero and awarded the prestigious posthumous “La Nacion Argentina Courage in Combat” medal and had a school named after him.
The operation to win back the Falklands from Argentinian forces began 30 years ago this month. The Battle of Two Sisters took place during the advance towards the capital, Port Stanley, when 45 Commando, which led the attack, targeted Argentine positions on the well-defended Two Sisters mountain ridge.
Ellis, now 50, from Kirkton of Auchterhouse, near Dundee, said: “We were out on clearance patrols during a lull and bagging up personal effects from dead bodies. One dog tag stays with the body while the other is handed in to the authorities.
“Suddenly the Argentinians started shelling us again. It was only when I was back on ship on board RFA Stromness that I realised I had this guy’s dog tag in my pocket.
“He had been killed by either mortar or an artillery wound. I have a great degree of respect for this man for staying and fighting. Even way back then I knew he was obviously a professional and not like the young conscripts who ran away.”
Ellis said he had been watching the coverage of the 30th anniversary of the conflict and was prompted to find out who the dog tag had belonged to.
“I was very surprised to see how much there was about this man on the internet. While it is of no intrinsic value it is very symbolic. It is quite a personal thing and the time is right for it to go back to his family. I just feel that by returning it I would be doing the right thing.”
Ellis plans to return it to the Argentinian government so it can be passed on to his family. He said that it was the passing of the years more than the 30th anniversary of the conflict which had turned his thoughts to the dead Argentinian soldier.
“When you’re in your 20s you are looking forward in life, wanting to make your mark and achieve things. When you get older you tend to reflect. I’ve had 30 years this man didn’t have.
“I was just a young man full of excitement. It was my first time going overseas fighting and it was a big adventure. We assumed it was much ado about nothing and that it would all have been sorted out by the time we got there. I didn’t even know where the Falklands were. But I’d be lying if I did not say it was grim. We had to regard the bodies on the battlefield as not being people, just dead bodies.”
Ellis’s research showed that Acosta had written a letter to his five-year-old son Diego before he died, describing how he had been shot down in a helicopter. In the poignant letter dated from Port Stanley on 2 June, just eight days before his death, Acosta told his son he was surrounded and asked him to pray for him: “Dear son Diego, How are You?..I’m writing to let you know I love you and think you know everything a man should to take my place at home when I’m not there.
“I write from my position to tell you that two days ago we were in a helicopter which was bombed, the helicopter fell and caught fire, killing several colleagues of mine but I was saved and am now awaiting the final attack. I saved three comrades from the flames. I tell you so you know you have a father you can be proud of and want you to keep this letter as a document if I do not return: and if I go back tomorrow, when we’re together I will read it at home.
“A big hug to your mother and sister – look after them as a true Acosta. Study hard. Viva las Patria.”
The memoirs of an Argentinian soldier who was there when Acosta died describe his comrades walking for ten hours to a hillside but suddenly being ambushed in a midnight attack. He wrote: “The English, who were already there, fired two flares and began an intense fire. The swish of a mortar and the projectile fell within inches of them [the Argentinian soldiers] killing Acosta.”