I know that a lot of you have seen action... but here's a kiwi story.... SAS hero ignored bullets Special Air Service (SAS) Corporal Bill (Willy) Apiata, 35, awarded the medal by the Queen for services in Afghanistan in 2004, said he was just doing what he was trained to do. "I was doing my job and just looking after my mates," he told journalists when asked what had gone through his mind as he made his dash to safety. "To be quite honest, I sort of only found out about this at 9 o'clock yesterday (Sunday). "I'm still trying to deal with all the emotions and it is like a real overwhelming experience. "In the heat of the moment, I can't really say ... Maybe at a later stage I'll be able to answer those questions." Stocky, with dark, hair and sporting a thick moustache, Apiata appeared nervous and was under orders not to reveal details of the operation for which he earned New Zealand's highest gallantry award. However, the official citation said that Apiata stood and lifted his wounded comrade. "He then carried him across the 70m 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." Born in Waikato in 1972, Apiata will be one of only 13 living recipients of the Victoria Cross, and one of just 14 people to receive it since the end of World War 2. He will be presented with his medal by Governor-General Anand Satyanand at a ceremony at Government House in Wellington this month. Before yesterday's press conference, journalists were warned that Apiata, who has made a career of slipping behind enemy lines, was not used to the limelight and might "freeze up". Voice cracking, Apiata at one point looked nervously to his right at Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae for help. Mateparae told reporters to ask other questions, saying Apiata was overwhelmed. Prime Minister Helen Clark said yesterday that the Queen had approved the award and that the glare of attention would probably change Apiata's life. "It is a life-changing event to be involved in an episode of this kind that compels you to step forward and save one of your comrade's lives," Clark said. "But then to step into the full glare of publicity, which, as you know, the SAS is not accustomed to doing, is another huge step." The Defence Force yesterday issued a slick brochure on the Victoria Cross and Apiata's life, with a CD-rom of photographs. Asked if she was concerned Apiata might be exploited for public relations purposes, Clark said the Defence Force would have to be careful and support him in future. The action took place in Afghanistan when the SAS was helping United States and British forces fight the Taliban. Apiata said he remained in contact with the fellow trooper he had rescued. "Every time I see him we have a beer and catch up. We are just mates; good mates that look after each other," he said. Apiata said his family was still coming to grips with the honour, but his friends back at the unit were "stoked". "My family are just like me. We are trying to get our feet back on the ground. "It is an enormous thing to happen, not just to myself but for my family," he said. Clark said three other gallantry decorations were being awarded to members of the SAS involved in the same operation, but they would not be named for security reasons. Captain C and Corporal B would receive the second-highest military honour, the New Zealand Gallantry Decoration. A soldier identified as Corporal R would receive the Gallantry Medal. Defence Minister Phil Goff said it was the extraordinary nature of the award that led authorities to release Apiata's name while he remained a serving SAS soldier. "The granting of a Victoria Cross is such an extraordinary event that it would be impossible to maintain the confidentiality," he said. "In terms of future deployments, the commander of his unit will have to make a judgment in each instance as to whether he can be deployed, given the knowledge people will have of his identity." The Victoria Cross for New Zealand resembles the British Victoria Cross in appearance and manufacture and is crafted by the same London jewellers out of metal from guns captured from the Russian army during the Crimean War. Only 22 Kiwis have been awarded the Victoria Cross. Apiata is the first recipient of the special New Zealand version of the medal, which was instituted in 1999. Apiata served as a territorial in East Timor in 2000 as part of the United Nations operations there. On his return in April 2001, he became a full-time soldier, transferring to the regular force of the New Zealand Army. In November 2001 he passed the gruelling SAS selection course and joined the unit the following year. He has links to the Ngapuhi tribe through his father and Whanau-a-Apanui, which is the iwi of his partner. Asked if the award would change him, Apiata said: "I see myself as Willy Apiata. I'm just an ordinary person. This is me. "I'm just one of the boys and always will be."