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  • Eyes of War

    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.
    War Front

    A black and white photograph of two young men in military uniforms. They are both wearing helmets and black boots, and they hold a white cloth flag with a medical cross symbol on it. They stand in front of a Jeep-style vehicle.
    Jack Levin, c1944. Courtesy: Jay Galst, MD
    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
    A black and white photograph of a man in military uniform standing between a white wood building and a large wooden sign. He is a young white man wearing a dark uniform with his uniform hat cocked to the side. The large white lettering on the sign reads: 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
    Two men in military uniforms examine a book in front of them. Both are middle aged white men wearing dark uniforms. The man in the foreground wears a cap, and the other man has dark hair and a mustache.Byron Smith, MD and General George S. Patton (1885-1945) looking at images of war injuries and surgical results. Courtesy of Richard Lisman, MD
    Home Front

    A black and white photograph of a man in military uniform holding a young child. He is a young, white man with dark hair and a dark uniform, and he crouches behind a standing little boy with curly hair.
    Lt. Joseph Gordon & James Ravin, 1943
    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

    An illustration of two men pulling on the sides of very large eyeglasses. The man on the right wears a suit, and the man on the left is wearing a military uniform. The small black text in the lower right corner reads: ...from February on, practically all of our sun glass output was sent to war!
    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

    A pair of plastic over-the-eye goggles with an elastic strap sit on a white background. Both the goggles and the strap are an olive, Army green.
    Type B-8 aviation goggles, c1944
    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.
    The Academy

    A black and white photograph of a large group of people sitting in chairs. Most of the people are men wearing black suits, but some of the suits are gray.
    Annual Meeting of AAOO, 1947
    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

    An autographed black and white photo of a man. The man is middle aged, and has gray hair and a gray toothbrush-style mustache. He wears a black suit and a patterned tie. A cursive signature is written across his left shoulder.Harry Gradle, MD. Dr. Gradle spent two years obtaining approval for his Home 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

    A sepia-toned photograph of a man wearing eyeglasses. He is a middle aged white man with light, slicked back hair and he wears dark round-framed glasses and a dark suit.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.

    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.

    Col. Forrest Hull, MD
    A black and white photograph of a young man in a military uniform. He is a white man with dark hair, and he wears a dark Army uniform and tie. He is smiling and looking slightly past the camera.Dr. Hull’s career in service.

    Rudolf Bock, MD
    A black and white photograph of a young man. The top of the photograph has a few creases, like it's been bent. The man is young, with dark hair and a high forehead. He is smiling with his lips together and looking slightly over the camera.A WWII refugee in China.

    George Kambara, MD 
    A color photograph of a middle aged, Japanese-American man. He has dark hair and olive skin, and he is wearing a blue suit, a red tie, and large, square-framed eyeglasses. He is looking to the right of the camera and smiling broadly.Dr. Kambara and the fate of Japanese Americans in WWII.

    Sir Harold Ridley, MD
    A black and white photograph of an older white man. He has white hair and a thin white mustache, and he wears dark framed eyeglasses and a dark suit.Sir Ridley’s discovery and WWII airplanes.

    Col. Thomas Tredici, MD
    A color photograph of an older white man in a military uniform. He has white hair, and he wears a blue Air Force uniform and cap. There are many multi-colored award ribbons on the breast of his coat.The last retired WWII pilot.

    Charles Schepens, MD
    A black and white photograph of an older white man sitting behind a table with large medical instruments on it. He has gray hair and high forehead, and he wears a white lab coat and black tie. He is smiling at the camera. The medical tools on the table are large and black and appear to be made of metal.A secret life in the Resistance.

    Holocaust Memorial

    A black and white photograph of a very large pile of eyeglasses.
    Spectacles found at Bergen-Belsen, c1945
    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.

    A silver pair of eyeglasses sits on a white background. The glasses have round lenses and the arms of the glasses have long hooked ends that hook behind the ear.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
    A black and white photograph of a field full of thin, emaciated, dead human bodies.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.