When the European spring begins, David Morgan knows that memories of the war will assail him again. He returned from the Falkland Islands in July 1982, decorated and recognized for his exploits as a pilot for the Sea Harriers, the most modern aircraft of that time. He participated in more than 50 missions during the conflict, in which he shot down helicopters and planes. Upon returning home, those exploits turned into nightmares. “I was irritable, nervous and very reluctant to make the little decisions every day. It was as if I had become used to making life and death decisions and had lost the ability to deal with the mundane, ”says David Morgan in his memoir, Hostile Skies, written 14 years ago and recently translated into Spanish and published in Argentina. Long after the war he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was able to talk about what he had experienced.
In a virtual interview from Buenos Aires with EL PAIS, the first with an Argentine journalist, David Morgan recalls those times with a sad look and long pauses. At 73, his life is now quiet, surrounded by nature in a beautiful country house in Shaftersbury, 150 km from London. Every weekend he is visited by his two children and five grandchildren, whom he takes to fly in his private plane and dedicates the time that perhaps he did not have as a father. His children were young when he left for the South Atlantic. Where was he going? What were the Falklands? The children understood this later, when some of their friends from school said that they had lost their parents. Thanks to 12 years of therapeutic help, David Morgan was able to write his memoirs. He dedicated them to his family and to his psychologist, Sally, whom he thanked for “saving his sanity.”
With a prologue especially dedicated to Argentines, David Morgan clarifies that he feared that the book “would not be well received” in the South American country. “But my good friends there encouraged me to do it,” he says. His lids hang heavy over his clear, glassy eyes as he gazes through his computer screen. “The war is not glorious, it is like looking into hell and we experience it the same on both sides. We did not enjoy the victories because we knew that Argentine pilots were like us: they felt the same love for flying and they also had families waiting for them ”, he clarifies with the same human tone that he uses in his book.
On Hostile Skies, Morgan gives meticulous descriptions of his missions, with technical details and precise data, along with the experiences of the moment. You can read love letters, excerpts from his personal diary, quotes from books by Richard Bach (author of Juan Salvador Gaviota and Delusions) or poems by John Pudney (from a book gift from his father, also an RAF pilot and World War II veteran) as well as his own verses, written for his wife and friends who died in combat.
“Some people did not like that he included the personal, but my idea was to write what I experienced, although I was ashamed,” says Morgan when he clarifies that England many colleagues criticized him for that. During his postwar years, Morgan was a squad instructor and at the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991, he was called up. That was the alarm that triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder. It had been almost 10 years since Malvinas, but his memories reappeared and he asked for help. So he retired and went into commercial aviation.
At the same time, a friend who was flying with him, Maxi Gainza, proposed that he meet an Argentine war veteran who was passing through London. At first he resisted, but then he agreed to meet Héctor Sánchez, one of the four pilots with whom he had had the most dramatic aerial combat of the war. That June 8 in the Malvinas deserves a whole chapter in his memoirs, because Morgan and his partner, David Smith, attacked four Skyhawks (Argentine combat aircraft) with missiles after seeing how they had bombed an English ship in Pleasant Bay. Three of the Argentine pilots died and Héctor Sánchez was saved.
“That affected me a lot. I remember exactly that moment, how my emotions changed in seconds: the anger when I saw our people attack, the euphoria when I got off the first plane, the empathy when the second man who ejected passed near my cabin and then the anger again , when I killed the third man. I think that day was the trigger for most of my problems after the end of the conflict, ”reflects Morgan, and remains in a long silence. During the eight months it took to write the book, he had several blocks and had to work a lot on that.
When talking about Héctor Sánchez, he smiles again. On one occasion, after several encounters, he remembers that the Argentine, noticing him distant and thoughtful, told him with empathy: “Don’t worry anymore, David, each one was fulfilling his duty.” They embraced. The friendship continues intact since those years. Both maintained contact by mail and later on social networks. David never traveled to Buenos Aires, but plans to do so in the future.
In 2007, for the 25th anniversary of the war, David Morgan traveled to the Falkland Islands for the first time. He toured in a jeep those frozen places that he remembered strewn with corpses and remnants of armaments. Everything looked different on this visit. “I found remains of the fuselage of my plane and also of one of the planes that I had shot down. Their pilot, Daniel Bolzán, was one of those who died that June 8 and I decided to send them to his son, ”he recalls. He wrote to her and told her everything. Thus began his relationship with the son of one of the 649 Argentine soldiers who died on the islands. “Its pilots carried out attacks with skill and courage, causing serious damage to many British ships. They were very brave, ”adds Morgan.
David Morgan’s memoirs come just at a time of historical review of the Falklands War in Argentina. In the academic field, the simplification that defined this war as “absurd and capricious” and its protagonists as puppets of the dictatorship of that time is being debated. For the anthropologist Rosana Guber “This framework strongly reduced the alternatives with which its direct protagonists could make sense of their war and human experience, and it also reduced the margin of recognition of their action in the public sphere.” In this research, Guber concludes that post-war encounters between the British and Argentines show that war confronts human beings who, many times, need to find reasons for such a traumatic experience.
David Morgan is part of an important group of war veterans from both countries who, decades later, needed to understand why they were there and shake hands to show respect. Unlike other meetings between veterans from both countries promoted in documentaries and even plays, the meeting between David Morgan and Héctor Sánchez was kept private. “I feel that our friendship is something private and very strong. We are united by having lived the same experience, even if it is on different sides. We don’t need to make it public. ” In 2019, Héctor Sánchez invited David Morgan to visit the Malvinas with Pablo Bolzán, son of the Argentine pilot killed in combat, and Luis Cervera, a war veteran. They toured the islands together and erected a monument in memory of Pablo’s father, Daniel Bolzán. Morgan was thus able to close the circle of his story.
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