Local eye doc provides vision of patriotism

By Michael Davis 1/6/10

Soldier Daniel McKey, 28, of the Louisiana National Guard's 415th battalion, shows off a pair of                ballistic sunglasses donated by Dr. de la Houssaye. * Photo courtesy of SEECA

The pulse of patriotism still beats, and locals wouldn't have it any other way.

Members of Houma's Charlie and Thibodaux's Delta companies - part of the 2nd Battalion, 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - are lacing up their boots once again, preparing for a road of hardships and unknowns.

The two companies will begin a 12-month stint in Iraq starting Jan. 8. However, a local ophthalmologist is making the trip a little bit safer, two eyes at a time.

Dr. A.J. de la Houssaye, of SEECA ophthalmology, donated $21,000 in military-issued ballistic sunglasses to members of both companies last month.

He has long been known as an advocate of patriotism, participating in area military mural projects and celebrations like the Patriots Parade. And given his track record, that's not likely to change any time soon.

De la Houssaye said that 140 pairs of sunglasses were donated to unknowing soldiers during a deployment dinner held in mid-December. "They were amazed and shocked, he said."

Oakley manufactures the shades at $150 per pair. But you won't find these at your local sunglass hut - they're issued to military personnel only. "I can't even give these away to my friends or family," he claimed.

The sunglasses are made of a special shatter-resistant material called Plutonite. If a projectile hits the lens, its energy is absorbed, sending the object in a different direction and protecting the soldier's eyes.

"[The sunglasses] are the same caliber as a bullet proof vest, but [they're] for the eyes," he explained. The shades will also help reduce discomfort and heat that can sometimes stem from bulky, military-issued goggles.

Too often, those goggles can be found resting on the tops of soldiers' heads, leaving their eyes exposed and vulnerable. De la Houssaye said the new sunglasses would help provide constant protection to soldiers stationed in countries with tropical climates and other harsh weather conditions.

But for the Houma ophthalmologist, the donation was personal.

"I went up to every single soldier at the deployment dinner and gave them a pair of glasses. It was a really cool thing for me to be able to do and let those guys know how much we appreciate their service," he said.

De la Houssaye's military ties can be traced back to 1968, when his father served and was killed in Vietnam. Although struck with angst at a young age, evidence of his giving nature can still be found.

As part of his efforts to support local troops and their families, de le Houssaye also offers Veterans free eye exams at his Houma office during the months of November and December.

"The main reason I do that is because I was affected as a kid," he said.

"My father was killed in action… and because of that, I went through a lot of tough times growing up. I knew what it was like to lose [someone] serving in the military.

"There are a lot of people in this area who have similar stories. I wanted to reach out to those people and give something back."

Within the two-month period, de la Houssaye said he typically sees about 300 veterans, some of whom may be returning to active duty.

Unfortunately, the grim realities that come with military service still linger. While the deployment dinner was meant as more a celebration than a farewell, some realize this could have been the final goodbye.

"A lot of these boys that are going [to Iraq]; we'll never see them again," de la Houssaye said. "So it really made that dinner special for me, because I knew it might be the last time I'm going to see them.

"I wanted them to know how much it means to me, and the community, that they're putting their life on the line to protect us. I mean, there's not too many people who do that."