• Eyes of War

    • Aug 02, 2017

    Courtesy of Jay M. Galst, MD

    World War II lasted 6 years and involved 25 countries. Nations and individuals were changed forever by their experiences in war. Presented in this exhibit is the history of the Academy, ophthalmic industry and the stories of individuals.

    Jack Levin, c1944. Courtesy of Jay M. Galst, MD

    War Front

    It is still difficult to definitively capture the number of deaths and casualties, or to quantify the destruction of property, from the war. It is estimated that 2.5% of all battle casualties suffered eye injuries and 15,000 soldiers were blinded. During battles it took an average of 36-48 hours for an injured soldier to be seen by an ophthalmologist. This led to advocacy efforts to have ophthalmologists either in forward hospitals or to evacuate the injured faster.

    • 209th General Hospital

      Byron Smith, MD (1908-1990) standing near the sign for the 209th General Hospital, United States Army Forces in the British Isles, c1942. Courtesy of Richard Lisman, MD

    • Byron Smith, MD and General George S. Patton

      Byron Smith, MD and General George S. Patton (1885-1945) looking at images of war injuries and surgical results. Courtesy of Richard Lisman, MD

    Lt. Joseph Gordon and James Ravin, 1943. Courtesy of James G. Ravin, MD

    Home Front

    In the United States, ophthalmology- like other surgical fields- had to contend with war shortages. Prior to 1939, 85% of surgical instruments were made in Europe and the primary exporter of these was Germany. As Europe went to war, American manufacturing needed to fill the gap.

    • Soldiers need glasses

      Illustration from American Optical Goes to War pamphlet, 1943. Early in the war effort, it was recognized that 18-20% of all military personnel needed visual correction. The Army Medical Department needed to provide sturdy eyeglasses to their troops and awarded the contract to the American Optical Company. The demand quickly overwhelmed company resources and eventually Bausch & Lomb Optical Co. and other manufacturers had to be brought in to fulfill the army’s needs.

    • Eye Protection

      Type B-8 aviation goggles, c1944. Gift of Col. Thomas Tredici, MD. When the Army reviewed WWI data, it found that most eye injuries occurred not from firearms but from flying debris. It was concluded that anywhere from 50 - 90% of eye injuries could be prevented with the proper eyewear. Protective eyewear was then made for all fronts including aviator goggles for pilots, glasses that could fit under gas masks for infantry men, and even goggles for specialized soldiers such as ski troops.

    Annual Meeting of AAOO, 1947

    The Academy

    In October 1941, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology had its 45th Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois. During that meeting, the Academy had much to celebrate - membership had grown to a record 3,000 physicians and it launched the Home Study Course, a major innovation in education. In contrast, the meetings after the bombing of Pearl Harbor were much more sober affairs. During the war years the Academy reduced membership fees for physicians in the armed forces and in 1945, when travel became too difficult, the Academy canceled its annual meeting – the only time it has done so in over 100 years of service.

    • Home Study Course

      Harry Gradle, MD. Dr. Gradle spent two years obtaining approval for his Homes Study Course. In the end hospitals, medical schools, the American Board of Ophthalmology and the American College of Surgeons all agreed that a course of study at home could greatly benefit physicians. The course eventually became the Academy’s acclaimed set of textbooks, the Basic and Clinical Science Course.

    • Change in Leadership

      William P. Wherry, MD (1880-1942). For 16 years Dr. Wherry lead the Academy. He was the CEO, President of the Board and Editor-in-Chief – all at the same time. His tireless efforts helped the Academy grow in membership and prestige. Dr. Wherry urged Academy support of the war effort and his unexpected death cast a long shadow over the 1942 annual meeting.

    Forrest Hull, MD


    World War II lasted 6 years and involved over 25 countries. It has been noted that it “spread death and devastation throughout most of the world to an extent never before experienced.” Indeed, by one estimate, the war cost the lives of over 19 million people. However, the consequences of World War II cannot be fully grasped by looking at statistics. It is only in the details of the lives of those who lived it, that we can truly grapple with the effects of a global war.

    Here are the experiences of individuals whose lives were changed forever by service or circumstance.

    Spectacles found at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, c1945

    Holocaust Memorial

    Starting in 1938, the Nazi Party purged German society and then the nations it captured of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, the handicapped, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, political dissidents and prisoners of war. Their state-sponsored genocide is widely known today as the Holocaust. Those murdered by the Nazis number well over 6 million people

    • Spectacles

      This pair of spectacles was recovered from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945. Established as a prisoner-of-war camp in 1940, Bergen-Belsen was designated a concentration camp in 1943. The Nazis used it as a way-station for prisoners on their way to the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Prisoners at the camp they were routinely stripped of their belongings, including spectacles.

    • Bergen-Belsen, c1945

      As Germany began to retreat from the western front, it moved more and more prisoners to interior camps, such as Bergen-Belsen, swelling its population to an unsustainable level. On April 15, 1945, the 11th Armoured Division of Great Britain liberated the camp. At the time, there were 60,000 prisoners. Liberators and survivors describe the camp as a living hell, with extremely poor sanitation, rampant disease, no food or water, and scores of unburied bodies. It’s estimated 50,000 people died there including the young Anne Frank who passed away one month before liberation.