Kiwi VC winner 'looking after his mates' (New Zealand soldier awarded the Victoria Cross) THE attack came under cover of darkness. Without warning, rocket-propelled grenades slammed into two of the New Zealand SAS troop vehicles, the force of the blast throwing Lance Corporal Willy Apiata to the ground and wounding two of his fellow soldiers. One of the men, members of an SAS patrol in Afghanistan in 2004, was bleeding heavily after shrapnel had severed an artery, and was lapsing in and out of consciousness. Without immediate medical assistance, the soldier, identified only as Corporal D, would have died. The three men were isolated, pinned down by machinegun and rifle fire from an estimated 20 attackers. It was then that Lance Corporal Apiata took the decision that yesterday led to him becoming his country's first Victoria Cross winner since World War II. Despite praise for his heroics from New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Chief of the Defence Force Lieutenant General Jerry Mateparae in Wellington yesterday, the now Corporal Apiata insisted he was simply doing his job and "looking after my mates". Asked if he saw himself as a role model, he said: "I see myself as Willy Apiata - I'm just an ordinary person." Three other members of Corporal Apiata's SAS regiment also received decorations yesterday for bravery and leadership in the Afghanistan conflict. Although it is standard practice not to identify SAS members, a decision was made to make Corporal Apiata, 35, an exception due to the significance of his award. Two Australian special forces commandos, who were awarded the Star of Gallantry - one level below the Victoria Cross - and Medal for Gallantry last November for service in Afghanistan, were not named.