Willie Apiata promoted at NZDF ceremony

The country’s most decorated living war hero returns to the New Zealand Defense Forces in a new special role and promotion to a higher rank.

In 2007, Corporal Bill Henry “Willie” Apiata was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery under fire after carrying a wounded comrade across a battlefield to safety during a night attack in Afghanistan in 2004.

Apiata left full-time military service in 2011, but remains a member of the New Zealand Army Reserve Forces and provides tutoring for the New Zealand Defense Force (NZDF).

The Waikato-born Victoria Cross winner was flanked by his mother and three children as he returned to the SAS base he called home for 10 years.

Apiata was at the base as part of a special ceremony that promoted him to Honorary Warrant Officer Class One, the highest rank a noncommissioned officer can obtain.

He told 1News host Melissa Stokes that his promotion in recognition of his service to the country “felt great.”

“Since I was a private, like any private, that is the rank we all aspire to reach,” he said after the ceremony.

Willie Apiata returns to the Defense Forces in a special new role, with a promotion to a higher rank.

Despite leaving full-time military service in 2011, Apiata maintains a strong sense of duty.

“I never took off my uniform from day one, when I first put it on, and I still wear it every day as a soldier,” he said. “And that they enlist me again and give me support…”

Apiata admitted that he was nervous in the days before his promotion to Non-Commissioned Officer.

“In fact, I felt as if I had just opened the Queen’s first letter and received the Victoria Cross again.”

NZDF Chief Air Marshal Kevin Short also approved Apiata as NZDF Special Representative, effective today.

“This is a very important occasion. He is a good man and I know that, with absolute passion, humility and mana, he will represent us as well as he already has,” Short said.

Apiata admitted that being the only living recipient of the New Zealand Victoria Cross used to weigh heavily on him.

“I have grown with the responsibility. I have grown with the award. I accept everything it has now and what it shares, and what it allows me to do,” he said.

“I understand its mana, the taonga and how it inspires people. I accept what it means. I use the positivity of the award to inspire others.”

The NZDF said Apiata’s new rank will also assist its current work with recruitment, retention and veterans’ rights.

“A big thing for all of us in the service is to ‘never leave anyone behind’ and I will continue to support and do everything I can for everyone who has served in our New Zealand Defense Forces,” he said.