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Spectacles and Glasses in WW2

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Spectacles had been provided in World War One, but it was not anticipated that this service would again be required. It was believed that the Red Cross would provide any needed spectacles. The only provision for the Army to provide spectacles was found in Army Reg. 40-1705, which authorized procurement only when they were necessary to correct visual defects resulting from violence suffered in the performance of duty. In all other cases the Army doctors would write prescriptions and the soldiers would have to pay out of pocket.

The problem became clear after the first draft when soldiers couldn’t afford out-of-pocket glasses or had broken their personal ones and couldn’t afford new ones. The military glass frame was to be 10% nickel silver with a reinforced bridge. It was found that this frame corroded in hot weather causing discoloration of the skin. An 18% nickel silver frame with the pad arm, pad arm assembly, endpieces, and cable winding of pure nickel solved this problem.

This was essentially the Ful-Vue style of glasses with the P3 frame that GIs wore.

Each man was entitled to two glasses. However, delivery problems abound. It took 5 months to get all the materials needed to make glasses and due to this instead of a 3-day turnaround period, it wasn’t unusual to have a 3-4 months turnaround period for the glasses. Some men never received the glasses, other men got them months and sometimes years later, as the glasses would be forwarded to the post where the men would be, only to find out that the said soldier had moved on.

Part of the problem lay with instead lay with 20% instead of 10% of the men needing glasses and not having enough materials to meet demand. The biggest problem, however, was that the eye examiners kept the receipts from the eye exam 7-10 days after, then forwarded all the accumulated receipts to the optical company.

The optical company couldn’t fill all the orders at once and so a backlogged ensued. Making the desired 3-day turnaround period impossible to fulfill. The frames were about $1.00 and the lenses about 75 cents. The average total cost of a pair of eyeglasses was about $2.50.

See: United States Army Medical Department – Medical Supply in WW2 1968 pp.75-80.

There are several other well written guides that go into glasses in more detail. Such as P3 Glasses – The U.S. Military Spectacles, GI Glasses: Are Modern Reproductions Worth It?, and Four Eyes: Eyeglasses and the WWII GI (a link to my Google Drive for a pdf).