Once again New Zealand has honored me, and I am overwhelmed. The wonderful people of New Zealand gave me a Royal Honour, for "Services to New Zealand-USA Relations." I just did what any reporter does -- I asked a lot of questions, ran around after visiting New Zealand officials or other visitors, and broadcast stories. But, there were not a lot of other people asking about NZ in those days, especially at the White House, Departments of State or Defense, or the Congress. My strident Yankee accent must have been jarring to the good people of NZ, but they took me in and tolerated me. Now, the Queen, the Government, and all others involved made me an "Honorary Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZN)." The heavy and handsome gold medal was presented at a ceremony at the New Zealand Embassy by a terrific man, Ambassador Mike Moore. I am grateful, and pleased I got through the ceremony without crying, passing out, or tripping.
There were several other Honourees, and the others were far more deserving and interesting. Here is a brief description:
Dr. Peter Watson: The Embassy description says "he has continued to promote NZ-US relations and established the American Friends of Christchurch to raise funds to support the recovery in Christchurch." On a personal note, I was pleased to once take Peter to the White House for a Christmas party. I believe that was his first visit, during his early years in Washington.
John Henry Whitehead -- the Executive Director of the World Bank. He is called "a recognized leader in the provision of economic advice in NZ and internationally."
Ambassador Richard Armitage: Despite some rocky times in the past, he is described as "championing closer military ties and working for a productive trade relationship, and supporting the contributions of the NZ Defence Forces."
Ambassador Clayton Yeutter: As a former top official for U.S. Agriculture and Trade, he "helped promote NZ interests for over 20 years."
James Clad: He "helped revise and restore the defence relationship between NZ and the US on the basis of mutual interest."
Scott Dixon: He is a dapper and fearless motorsport racer, who won several racing championships around the world in over 25 years. One of his victories included the Indianapolis 500 race in 2008.
Maurice Conti and Sophie Conti: They risked their lives "to rescue three civilian sailors off the coast of Suva in 2008 after they picked up a Mayday call for help." Their Medal for Bravery was truly well deserved! The story of their daring rescue can make for an exciting movie.
NZ Special Services Medal for the Erebus "Operation Overdue" were also well deserved. These stemmed from the tragic passenger plane crash into Mt. Erebus, the Antarctic, on Nov. 28, 1979. All 257 passengers and crew perished. The four Americans who received medals for their extraordinary work are retired Navy officers:
Commander David Srite: "His navigation was a key element of locating the wreckage and providing superb support to the NZ-based Operation Overdue."
Commander Chaplin Lee Clark: He helped to identify the bodies. The Embassy says "All were blessed and a brief prayer recited for them... His efforts were a great comfort to the recovery team members in the Antarctic and for the victims' families in their homes across the world."
Lt. Commander Edward Klonoski: "He was able to locate the wreckage... maintaining radio communications with his base and reporting on what could be seen on each pass over the crash site."
Lt. Commander John Williamson: The Embassy writes, "As a pilot, he flew many recovery missions from the crash site... the men of the Squadron remained on station in support of the recovery operation virtually non-stop until all the recoveries possible had been made."
This is quite a team of people. I am humbled and honored, and hope I can contribute even more in the future.