Kingitanga

                                                                                                                       

 In July last year he was awarded the VC for saving a fellow soldier wounded in combat with the Special Air Service (SAS) operating with the Americans in Afghanistan. The people the SAS were fighting, we're told in the book, were the Taliban.


But as author Paul Little explains, much else is not known about the action itself – including the date and the location.


Unusually his VC is dated, not to that event, but to the day he got the medal.


Corporal Apiata and Little make little of the politics behind the SAS operation in Afghanistan. There is little discussion about it, about what they were doing or even on the secretive way in which they operated with the Americans. The combat, in which Corporal Apiata won his VC, seems to have ended when an American B-1 bomber arrived on the scene.


New Zealanders have not actually been told of this until now and nor are we allowed to know much else about it.


Thus the book slots into a kind of "approved history" or "authorised version" rather than anything with a wider context.


Perhaps then it was so much easier for Kenneth Sandford who wrote the Upham book, which remains in print and popular. Fighting Nazis in Greece and North Africa was unambiguous while stomping around in Afghanistan, in what is often labelled an unwinnable war, hardly enjoys public support – even if they know about it.


This is not to belittle Corporal Apiata. He comes across in the book as a soldier's soldier.


They were at some anonymous village in Afghanistan preparing for local elections when the SAS unit camped nearby.


"One theory is that they strayed across an invisible ethnic border into a region whose inhabitants were more hostile than those they had encountered earlier," Little recounts.


He includes large tracts of the corporal's own words about how his vehicle, labelled "Almighty", was hit as they slept.


"The first thing I knew abut it was when the wagon was hit – I got blasted out of my sleeping bag, and found myself standing up with the bag around my ankles... I don't know how long those buggers had been there waiting. Only they know that. All I know is we got woken up really early..."


The most graphic part of the book is his description of his comrade's wound.


"I could see he was seriously injured. I could hear it. You could turn a tap on right now and hear the water hitting the sink – that was the sound of his blood pouring out and hitting the ground."


The story of him carrying the soldier to help is well known now – it's why he got the VC.


The man survived and eventually got back to New Zealand, followed by Corporal Apiata.


"And when I walked off the plane, my mate was the first dude I saw. He was there waiting with his wife. It's so painful when they give you a big hug and say, 'Thank you for carrying my husband to safety.'"


He calls it a life changing moment, although he resists any notion of being a hero.


"On that day everything that I've learnt in my life – from all the old people around me, the old chap and my old man, and through all the guys that have trained me in the Army, through cycle and afterwards – it all came down to that one small piece of ground and that little portion of time," Corporal Apiata writes.


"Then you knew that everything was drawn into yourself to enable you to accomplish those things. All those other people were there beside you to help you, to teach you that small bit of something that helped you cover that ground, carry that guy and get him out of there in that one moment."


There is humour in the book. After the drama he was psychologically assessed, something he did not like, but was necessary to find out if he was "some sort of psycho".


Fame was not great either.


"And the media are the scariest people in the world, because we have never talked to them in the SAS. We know they would love to find out the nuts and bolts of what we get up to. So to go out and actually talk to the buggers, you've got to be very careful what you say...


                                                                                                                              

KiwigirlAnj KiwigirlAnj
36-40, F
Feb 11, 2010