For 40 years Sonny Alex has waited to see his uncle honoured in a museum dedicated to Māori military service.
Yesterday that wait was finally over.
Choking back tears the 81-year-old Malaya and Borneo veteran said his uncle Dick Alex, from Whangārei, was wounded serving with the 28th Māori Battalion at the Battle of Monte Cassino.
He was shot going into no man's land at night to recover the injured.
''He wasn't supposed to go out at night but he could hear the wounded crying out. The bullet smashed his jaw and went out one eye.''
Sonny, who lives in Onerahi, said his uncle was sent home by troop ship and hoped to see New Zealand again before he went totally blind, but he was too late.
He died some years later at age 47.
Sonny was one of more than 1000 people who attended the dawn opening of Te Rau Aroha, a new museum at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.
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The museum's main focus is the 28 Māori Battalion, in particular A Company whose members were mainly drawn from Northland, but it traces all conflicts from 1840 to the present day.
Sonny took along a photo of his uncle and his medals, including the Military Medal for bravery.
''The museum is beautiful,'' he said.
''It brought tears to my eyes. It's something we've been waiting for, for a long, long time. I've been waiting 40 years.''
The building, which is tucked into trees opposite the Treaty House and Te Whare Rūnanga (the carved meeting house), measures 1300sq m and includes a multi-use space for hosting events and educational groups.
It was opened by 95-year-old Robert 'Bom' Gillies from Rotorua — one of only two remaining members of the 28 Māori Battalion — along with Victoria Cross recipient Willie Apiata, Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The only other battalion survivor is Epineha Ratapu, who turned 99 last week in Masterton.
The museum was paid for by a $14.6 million grant from the Provincial Growth Fund and built in a year with most of the work by Northland firms.
Regional Development Minister Shane Jones said the museum was the number-one item on New Zealand First's wishlist when it negotiated a coalition deal with Labour in 2017.
''This is a pathway for the mokopuna of the men who served to start to learn not only about their own identity, but also about the ethic of service,'' he said.
Two young girls, or puhi, were the first to step across the threshold before dawn yesterday.
Thirteen-year-old Manea Albert-Renata (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau-a-Apanui) said she felt ''proud and emotional'' to be part of the ceremony.
She also felt connected to the museum because her father, who drowned rescuing her at Cable Bay two years ago, was an Iraq and East Timor veteran, her grandfather served in Vietnam and her great-grandfather was a warrant officer in the Māori Battalion.
The inspiration for the museum came from a speech delivered at the Treaty Grounds 80 years ago today.
Speaking to troops of the Māori Battalion, Sir Apirana Ngata said fighting on faraway battlefields was the price Māori had to pay to be accepted as citizens of New Zealand.
''The price of citizenship'' is the central theme running through Te Rau Aroha.
The 28 Māori Battalion was made up entirely of volunteers and had the highest casualty rate of any New Zealand battle group.
Waitangi National Trust chairman Pita Tipene paid tribute to his predecessor Pita Paraone, who worked tirelessly to make his father's dream of a whare maumahara (museum) for the Māori Battalion a reality.
Tragically he did not live to see it completed.
Trust chief executive Greg McManus hoped visitors to Te Rau Aroha would leave with a clearer understanding of Māori commitment and sacrifice to New Zealand in times of war.
The crowd for the dawn opening was so big its stretched halfway to the flagpole and people were still queuing to get in an hour later. A second opening for politicians and other dignitaries was held at 10am.
The final room of the museum is inscribed with about 7000 names of those who served in the Pioneer and Māori battalions, along with photos of most members of A Company.
Te Rau Aroha: What's in a name?
The new museum takes it name, Te Rau Aroha, from a mobile canteen that fed soldiers of the Māori Battalion during World War II.
It was paid for by donations from children at what were then called native schools, who raised the money through odd jobs, stalls and concerts.
Te Rau Aroha is a term of respect given to those whose actions embody courage and service to their fellow citizens.
The canteen braved attacks as it travelled across deserts, over mountains and through rivers, dispensing news and home comforts such as tea and biscuits, chocolate and other supplies.
The bus is normally housed at the National Army Museum in Waiouru but until late today will be on display next to the flagpole at the Treaty Grounds.