When America entered World War II and issued the draft, the military was quickly met with a problem of manpower. Millions of men did not qualify for service because they had either bad teeth or bad eyesight.
With the Army facing a troop shortage of almost a million men, they were forced to rethink the qualification requirements, particularly in terms of vision. The result was an interesting standard for who was able to serve and, once enlisted, which US soldiers received military-issued eyeglasses for vision correction.
Glasses for Soldiers in WWII
Looking at photos of soldiers in World War II, glasses are not often a common sight. This is somewhat understandable since combat requires high energy activities and having glasses slip off could be extremely dangerous in a high stakes situation.
But troop shortages meant that the Army had to send even those with less than 20/20 vision to the front lines, and after the initial months of low draft numbers, the military lowered the standard to 20/200 vision as long as glasses could correct it to at least 20/40.
Today, 20/200 is considered legally blind. To put this into perspective, if you consider the Snellen vision chart that is most often used for eye examinations, 20/200 means that the person can make out only the top line from 20 feet away.
20/40 vision was required – whether through natural or corrected vision – for a man to be sent to the front. On that same vision chart, 20/40 means a person can read the fifth line from 20 feet away. A person with 20/40 vision would need to stand twice as close to an object as someone with average 20/20 vision to clearly see it. The military determined that this was satisfactory for service.
The result was that the military did not generally issue glasses for soldiers who had 20/40 vision or better.
The 20/40 vision requirement is a significant difference from today’s practice of prescribing glasses to most people with less than 20/20 vision, although this was not limited solely to the military. Many opticians for the general public also would not prescribe glasses for vision that was better than 20/40, but it made more sense during war time due to extensive shortages in materials and available factory space for manufacturing anything that was not required for the war effort.
For some, this was preferred since fighting with glasses could be cumbersome. Some recruits memorized the Snellen chart so they could convince the optician they had better vision.
But the use of military glasses in WWII exposes yet another one of the hardships on the front lines. It is alarming to consider what it would mean if a soldier with 20/200 vision lost or broke his glasses on the front line, or a soldier with 20/40 vision struggling to see small details at even 20 feet away.
These requirements also only applied to combat units, such as infantry. Those working in medical units and other operations could have lower vision, although many still operated in high risk situations at different times.
While there were some limitations on who qualified for vintage GI glasses during World War II, there were still millions of pairs produced and hundreds available today for anyone who wants to own and wear a piece of history. Fortunately, you are also able to change out the lenses with your specific prescription, even if that is 20/40.
Eyeglasses Warehouse has many pairs of vintage P-3 military glasses in our inventory for WWII reenactors and daily wear. Check out our available options for these and other eras today.