The first of 30 Vietnam War veterans were formally recognised for their service at a ceremony at Government House in Auckland today.
Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy led proceedings as she delivered the Mention in Dispatches Award to veterans and their families.
More than 3000 New Zealand servicemen and personnel deployed to Vietnam between 1967 and 1973.
Veterans Affairs' minister Ron Mark choked back tears when asked why today was so emotional for him.
"Well Lieutenant Alistair McKenzie, he and I served together. He was an outstanding leader, an outstanding officer."
Ron Mark wrote to the governor general himself asking her to honour Vietnam veterans.
He looks back at the period with sadness and said many veterans still lived isolated lives because of their experiences when returning home.
"There were parades where they were spat on, where paint was thrown at them."
It was the job of Bob Davies to read out the gazette listings mentioning Veterans' services to their country.
Along with an informal handshake from a commanding officer it was the only recognition they received after the war ended.
Lance Corporal William Teller was one of two living veterans at this morning's ceremony who received his honour from the governor general.
And Mr Teller said today's recognition was long overdue.
"We had a saying in the army: 'Hurry up and wait.' So you just got to [live] for things, if they're going to happen, they'll happen. Fifty years is a long time to wait."
Mr Teller knows how hard it can be adjusting to civilian life.
"One minute your killing people and this was back in 1969, 1970, and then the next day you're on a plane back in civilization."
Mr Teller said he kept a low-profile when he returned from war.
"When I got home my friends were that much ahead of me in terms of [being] married and had cars and houses ... and Bill had a chest full of medals."
Dave Yandall was on hand to receive his dad Sergeant Jersey Bassett Yandall's award.
He was one of many family members who received honours on behalf of their loved ones today
Dave said he was not sure if his dad would have been too fussed with the ceremony - but it was an honour to be there on the day.
"A very proud moment for myself, being the one who got up to accept the award, [and] especially for the family because we had some relatives here as well."
Investiture ceremonies will continue in Wellington tomorrow.