Sunday, July 01, 2007

NZ soldier Willy Apiata to be awarded Victoria Cross for bravery in Afghanistan where he carried wounded colleague to safety

"I was just doing my job boss"

Those were the words of SAS Corporal Willy Apiata when told by his commanding officer he was in line to receive New Zealand's highest military honour for his service in Afghanistan, the Victoria Cross. The last time the nation's highest military decoration was awarded in New Zealand was in 1946.

Corporal Apiata, 35, carried a wounded colleague for 70 metres under heavy fire in 2004. The soldier would have died from the loss of blood.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says awarding a Victoria Cross for the first time since the Second World War, was not taken lightly. "A huge amount of work has been done, to document what happened and to research the precedence for the award of the Victoria Cross, before taking the decision to proceed."

Corporal Apiata becomes one of only 13 living recipients of the VC worldwide. A member of the British Army received the VC for gallantry in Iraq in 2004 and is the only other VC recipient still serving in the military. He will be invested with the Victoria Cross for New Zealand by the Governor-General at a special ceremony to be held at Government House later this month.

Waikato born, Corporal Apiata joined the territorials in 1989 and served in East Timor before making the SAS is 2002. He is father to a four-year-old son.

Three of Corporal Apiata's colleagues are also receiving gallantry awards, but because of the secrecy surrounding the SAS they are not being named.

Defence Minister Phil Goff says New Zealanders can be proud of the extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of their duties by members of the NZSAS.

"The VC honours a man who put his own life at risk to save the life of a comrade. All of the honours reflect exceptional courage and leadership, and the commitment members of the NZSAS have to each other and to the tasks they are sent to do on behalf of New Zealand.

"They are modest about their achievements but they have contributed to an already proud tradition of military service by the NZSAS and a reputation for being ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs."

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