Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Reluctant Hero
Paul Little – Viking - $50

I suspect that Lance Corporal Willie Apiata has succeeded the late Sir Edmund Hillary as the most admired living New Zealander. His astonishing act of bravery and courage in Afghanistan has now become part of NZ history. It was an act that saw this remarkably modest soldier, an ordinary kiwi bloke, a reluctant hero, become the first recipient of the Victoria Cross of New Zealand and just the 14th holder of the Commonwealth’s highest award for bravery since the end of World War Two.

This is a remarkable and highly readable story of a man who seems totally unaffected by the honour bestowed upon him and by the huge media attention that he has attracted.
He only became a full-time member of the SAS in 2002 having been in the Territorials prior to that.
As the author says “ his combination of energy and old-fashioned values is likely to continue to inspire others. He represents a New Zealand spirit that many had thought had ceased production some time ago; a combination of common sense, non-materialism – he is one of the few people who are believable when they say they do not care about possessions – closeness to nature, self sufficiency, and living in the present, which is a key to his philosophy”.

Here is Willie Apiata's afterword from the book which gives some idea of the man:

It was the start of winter, nearly a year after I got the VC, and it took so many weeks for the river back home to go down. I couldn’t get up it for the first month, so I looked around and came in the back, which is a hua of a journey, but I ended up only going halfway, because as I was about to cross over the saddle and drop into the valley I came across a hind and shot it.

I turned around and went down another stream. It was an amazing journey. I walked down a gorge with my pack on and my deer over the top of it. There were places where I was paddling and the stream was only as wide as a car. There was rock all the way up on either side. There was only one place where I couldn’t get down in the water and had to climb up through the bush, bypass it and come back down into the stream.

At one point I had to put the deer on a rock and position it so that once I’d jumped into the water I would be able to reach up, grab its leg and get down. I couldn’t tell from looking at it how deep the water was because it was so crystal clear.

When I jumped in, it was right up to my neck. I was reaching up and could just tickle the ends of the hoofs. I managed to pull it enough to get it down and catch it on my pack and start paddling. I always trap a bit of air in my backpack, so that when I’m cruising in the water I float. When I’ve got a deer on, the air compensates for the weight. I’ve come out of a flooded river with a pig on my back like that.

I go up there every year with my backpack. For me, it’s my test before I come back to work. When I can no longer carry animals out of the bush, maybe then it will be time to move on into the office.

Taken with permission from Willie Apiata VC: The Reluctant Hero by Willie Apiata & Paul Little.
Published by Penguin/Viking. RRP $50, hardback.
Copyright © text, Bill Henry Apiata, 2008.
Photographs © NZSAS NZDF

Willie, you are indeed a hero.

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