An unknown number of men who served in World War II have never had their heroism recognised by the New Zealand Government, Fred Crafar says.
The 87-year-old Merchant Navy veteran knows this because he is one of them.
In a surprise ceremony yesterday at Jean Sandel retirement village, New Plymouth MP Jonathan Young presented Mr Crafar with two medals, two lapel pins and a citation from the United States Government - the first time the US has recognised his contribution to the war effort.
New Zealand did not commemorate Merchant Navy seamen until 2010 when the government introduced September 3 as Merchant Navy Day.
The humble recipient said there were plenty of other Merchant Navy seamen out there who also deserved recognition.
"So many people did heroic things," he said. "I like to think this is for them, too."
Mr Crafar remembers waking on a ship somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean to the sound of depth charges when he was just 16 years old.
"Being deprived of sleep for days on end, it takes a bit of getting used to," he said. "I must say it's more pleasant living in Ryman [Healthcare] than it is living in the ship's crow's nest."
Mr Crafar was overwhelmed by the unexpected ceremony which was attended by family, friends and members of the navy community.
"It's the biggest surprise I've ever had in my life."
Mr Crafar's son, Paul Crafar, travelled from Wellington to attend the surprise ceremony.
"We had to use devious means to get him along here, but I think he's cottoned on to what's happening," Paul said.
Fellow ex-merchant seaman and Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit Merv Martin organised the medal ceremony with help from Kathy McKinnon, of Mr Young's office.
Mr Crafar joked that his new-found fame might not stop at the Ryman retirement village.
"The Yanks might want me to go to Hollywood," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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