Virgil Vernon Houchin: A Marine Who Died at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, 8 March 1945

Yesterday I went to the museum in downtown Fredericksburg for the WWI exhibit, World Aflame, and saw some really awesome, yet really depressing, exhibits. My favorite one, I think, were the artifacts about a marine named Virgil Houchin who died at Iwo Jima. The case had a picture of Virgil and his wife Cora, his watch and wallet (which still, seven decades later, held a dry cleaning ticket), his purple heart (awarded to him as a recognition of a wound received in action) and the medal’s certificate, and a few undelivered letters. When reading up on the watch and wallet, I found out that they were sent home to Houchin’s family after his death at Iwo Jima. To my surprise, they were the only belongings of his that his wife received. Even though I found this kind of sad, what I found heartbreaking was the letters. Cora had worked with their four-year-old son, Vernon, to create one of the letters displayed in the case. She had modeled the letter’s of Vernon’s name and, like any four-year-old would, he did his best to copy them for his father. Cora also wrote a little note to her husband, which read:

“Vernon’s name he printed and some numbers on the other side. Just use your imagination and see his working hand doing this. He has the letters even if they are not all in the right place.”

What really broke my heart, was that the letters in the case were all undelivered because the person they were for died before they arrived to him. Word of Virgil’s death at Iwo Jima did not reach his wife Cora for nearly two months, however, in the meantime, she continued to write to him. I could never imagine writing cheerful, encouraging letters to my husband for two months, and then open my mailbox one day, expecting a letter from my husband, and instead of receiving all of my letters to him marked “undelivered” with word of his death two months after the fact.


And now, for some pictures!


Virgil and Cora

The certificate of his death

A picture of Virgil, his watch and wallet, and the letter from his wife and son

The Purple Heart medal and the certificate that goes with it

Leave a Reply