Carmel Tom has received an Order of Australia medal for her service to naval veterans.
The Werribee resident said the letter about the OAM from the Governor General’s office was unexpected.
“I walked from the kitchen to the front room shaking and a little bit teary,” she said.
Ms Tom said she was not permitted to tell anyone she would receive the OAM until the honour was announced on Australia
The OAM will officially be presented at a Government House ceremony later this year.
Ms Tom joined the Royal Australian Navy at the age of 17 and served for three years before getting married. After her wedding, she joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserve, in which she still serves as a petty officer.
She also volunteers in several roles, including as a navy representative on the Anzac Day Commemoration Council and as secretary of the Naval Association’s Victorian south-eastern sub-section.
Ms Tom said she enjoyed working with veterans, many whom are aged in their nineties.
“The World War II veterans, Korean veterans and Malaysian veterans are amazing, they’re beautiful and they’re sincere,” she said.
Ms Tom said she had always been passionate about helping others.
“I’ve got this thing – you’ve got to give back,” she said.
Ms Tom served as media liaison officer for the INTERFET (International Force in East Timor) in 1999.
Ms Tom said she was at a funeral in Altona when she received the call telling her to be on the next plane to Darwin.
There, she was put in charge of supervising media accreditation, transport and administration at a time when more than 200 journalists were seeking entrance to Dili.
“We would tell the media: ‘There was no water or food, be packed and be ready, whatever you’re taking, make sure you can carry it’,” she said.
During those three months, Ms Tom was on call 24/7 and dealt with organisations as varied as the Pentagon, the BBC and CNN.
She also visited East Timor, seeing first-hand the devastation the country endured.
After arriving back home, she was interviewed by the Werribee Banner.
“I always thought I had nothing,” she told the newspaper.
“But it was the most humbling experience to go over there and see what nothing really is.”