When Syl Wilkerson received his Purple Heart in 1966, he never knew how much it would mean to his family.

As an Army special forces operative, Wilkerson was frequently away from his family for weeks at a time, leaving them with little to no information on where he was or what he was doing. Often, his family didn't know if he was alive or dead at any given moment.

Now, over 50 years later, Wilkerson's family is being recognized by the Military Order of the Purple Heart as the first-ever "Purple Family." Every single member of his immediate family joined the organization with him.

The Purple Family concept is part of the organization's "Purple Trail" program, which recognizes places and organizations of significance to Purple Heart recipients. To join the MOPH, one must either be a recipient of the award or their spouse, child, sibling or parent.

Wilkerson is the commander of the Goldsboro chapter. His wife, two sisters and all 11 of his children have joined the MOPH with him, out of what Wilkerson said is gratitude for his safe return.

"I was in intelligence and my unit was compromised, so they had to get me out, and they shipped me from Germany to Vietnam and left my wife in Germany," he said. "They had to move the family as well, and so once day she saw the military cars pull up in front of the house. She wouldn't let them in."

See the Sunday issue of the Goldsboro News-Argus, or visit www.newsargus.com Sunday morning for the full version of this story.