'Reluctant hero' gives his VC to the nation

By Alanah Eriksen, Alanah May Eriksen

New Zealand's newest war hero is to gift his Victoria Cross to the nation, saying it belongs to the whole country.

Corporal Willie Apiata of the Special Air Service will hand over the supreme military award for valour to the NZSAS Trust, a charitable organisation dedicated to the welfare of SAS members and their families, to hold on behalf of the nation.

A documentary to screen tonight details how Corporal Apiata ran 70m over rocky ground through heavy machine-gun fire carrying a severely wounded comrade during the Afghanistan conflict in 2004.

After delivering the soldier to a medic in a support vehicle, Corporal Apiata joined the counter-attack.

"All the people I know who have been awarded [VCs] are just ordinary blokes," he said in a preview of the documentary Reluctant Hero on One News last night.

"Just ordinary blokes looking out for their mates, doing what people call extraordinary things."

Corporal Apiata, 35, who was awarded the medal last July, said he did not earn the VC on his own.

"I thought long and hard about what I want to do with the medal ... it will never be sold, there will never be quarrels about it.

"When my life has passed, my son, his sons, our bloodline will be able to wear it and represent me. The resting place will be here in the unit.

"It is important that the medal is protected for future generations. By gifting it to the NZSAS Trust, I know my wishes will always be respected."

The VC will stay in the SAS compound in Papakura and will be on public display when Corporal Apiata wears it during ceremonies or at other events agreed to by him and the trust.

Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Jerry Mateparae said the gift reflected Corporal Apiata's character.

"He is an unassuming, humble man who wants to ensure his mates and the wider NZDF can share his award.

"The medal will remain available to Corporal Apiata to wear and, in future years, for members of his family to wear."

The medal is the first Victoria Cross awarded to a member of the New Zealand military since 1946. Only 14 VCs have been awarded since the end of World War II.

Defence Minister Phil Goff said Corporal Apiata earned the VC for his extreme selflessness.

"His actions reflect the commitment members of the SAS have to each other and the importance the unit attaches to humility as one of its core values.

"Like others before him, such as [VC and Bar winner] Charles Upham, he credits the winning of the medal to the shared efforts of the wider group of which he is a part.

"New Zealanders can be proud of the extraordinary heroism and outstanding performance of duty by Corporal Apiata and gratified by his generous decision."

NZSAS Trust chairman Sir Wilson Whineray said Corporal Apiata's decision made him proud to be associated with "such a fine" New Zealander.

"The NZSAS Trust is happy to accept responsibility for ensuring that Corporal Apiata's wishes will always be adhered to."

* Reluctant Hero, which profiles Willie Apiata, re-enacts his feat of heroism and looks at how he has coped with the public exposure. It will screen on TV One at 8.35 tonight.

CORRECTION

The Newmarket Anzac Day service will take place at 10am today in the Olympic Reserve, next to the Olympic Pool, not at the location and time listed yesterday.

- NZ Herald

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