British Military Medals – Victoria Cross. Highest award for Bravery
Bill Henry “Willy” Apiata was born in Mangakino, New Zealand on the 28th of June, 1972 to a Maori New Zealander (his father) and a Paheka New Zealander (mother). His parents are separated, and he was raised by his mother in Northland until moving to Te Kaha, where he attended Whanau-a-Apanui Area School, until he left on his 15th birthday.
At 16, his mother sent him back to Northland to live with relatives. Bill has three sisters, and is the third youngest of the bunch. Bill enlisted in the Territorial Force of the New Zealand Army, which is much like the United States’ Army National Guard. He had friends in the force who convinced him to join. He was assigned to the Hauraki regiment of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment, based in Tauranga.
While playing the part of an enemy soldier in a training exercise, Bill became aware of the NZSAS, (New Zealand Special Air Services), which he tried to join but was not selected. From June 2000 through April 2001, Bill served in East Timor with the 3rd Battalion group as part of a United Nations operation. Upon his return to New Zealand, Bill transferred to the regular force of the New Zealand Army. In November of 2001, Bill again applied to the Special Air Services, and was selected, trained, and was made a member of the NZSAS in the early part of 2002. He is regarded as a role model by his peers, and has won awards or received above average results on every military training course he has attended.
While holed up for the night in the rocky terrain of Afghanistan, Bill’s NZSAS troop came under rocket propelled grenade attack. One of the grenades caused Bill to fall of the vehicle he was on. Two of his fellow soldiers were injured, one severely bleeding from an artery. Under heavy rifle fire and illuminated by the burning vehicles, Bill hoisted his badly injured comrade onto his back and carried him some seventy meters to the area where the rest of his troop were hunkered down. His unselfish bravery would spare the life of his brother in arms. Following is an excerpt from his award citation:
“In total disregard of his own safety, Lance Corporal Apiata stood up and lifted his comrade bodily. He then carried him across the seventy meters of broken, rocky and fire swept ground, fully exposed in the glare of battle to heavy enemy fire and into the face of returning fire from the main Troop position. That neither he nor his colleague were hit is scarcely possible. Having delivered his wounded companion to relative shelter with the remainder of the patrol, Lance Corporal Apiata re-armed himself and rejoined the fight in counter-attack.”
Corporal Bill Apiata also wears The New Zealand Operational Service Medal, The New Zealand East Timor Medal, The United Nations East Timor Medal and The New Zealand General Service Medal for Afghanistan. Bill has also been awarded the US Presidential Unit Citation.
Mike, a former trooper who served with Apiata and knows him well said he felt a huge sense of pride when the award was announced. “It couldn’t have gone to a better guy.” Everyone in the SAS agreed the award was well-deserved. “If it wasn’t for Willy the soldier he rescued would be dead.” Mike described Apiata as a simple man with a good sense of humor who enjoyed socializing with close friends. “He likes a beer with the guys, and he’ll always shout.” According to Mike, the Army was central to Apiata’s world. “He’s one of those guys that the army provides a bit of stability for, a bit of structure.” Apiata was “a bloody hard worker” and “a bloody good soldier,” Mike said. “He’s a real tough bugger as strong as an ox. When we were doing the CQB [Close Quarter Battle, or unarmed combat] stuff he was one of the best. “Because he’s big and strong, you’re bloody glad that you’re on the same side. You know he’s got the potential to be bloody lethal and aggressive, but he’s quite controlled.”
While Apiata was smart, he was “more the practical, hands-on guy an excellent diver and a crack shot.” Like his SAS comrades, Apiata would have seen his deployment to Afghanistan as an opportunity to test himself and his skills, said Mike” As a soldier you’re focused on doing your job as best you can and on staying alive. You just get on with it although obviously if something is morally wrong you’d question it.”
Mike said Apiata was a humble man who would not welcome the attention the award has brought. “I’m just hoping the media won’t be too invasive. I hope that once all the hype has died down he can get back to normal.” Promoting the New Zealand Defense Force was something Apiata might have to do, but he would want to stay in the SAS and be available for deployment to places like Afghanistan.
“I think if Afghanistan comes up again he’ll go or at least, he’ll want to go.”
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