From Mon Valley to the Moon: A Life Well Lived

By: Lt. Col. Bill Ercoline, USAF (Ret), Daedalian Life Member #5981

Col. (Dr.) Thomas J. Tredici, USAF, MC (Ret)

Born in 1922 in the small steel producing town of Monessen, Thomas J. Tredici grew up quickly learning about the rugged life of steel mill workers and coal miners. Monessen — located in southwestern Pennsylvania along the Monongahela River — is known as Mon Valley to the locals. After high school, Tredici enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and began a remarkable military and civil servant career. He would serve his country for the next 78 years.

After completing military pilot training, Tredici was deployed to Great Britain, where he flew combat missions while assigned to the 457th Bomb Group of the 8th Army Air Force — aka The Mighty Eighth — in the B-17G Flying Fortress aircraft. He survived the hazards associated with flying high-altitude missions without life support technology such as cabin pressurization and eye protection. His fascinating stories about flying combat in the B-17 aircraft have been published and told many times.

When the war ended, Tredici returned to his hometown and decided to go to college. He was accepted and graduated with a bachelors of arts, magna cum laude, from Washington and Jefferson College in 1949. He often credited his Monessen High School education for preparing him for college. He would also claim that the most useful college class was his dancing class, something he would rely on throughout his life.

Following college graduation, he applied for and was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. Perhaps because of the experiences he encountered during his flying days, he took an interest in ophthalmology. He completed his ophthalmology residency at the University of Pittsburgh in 1956 and then returned to active military duty as a medical officer. He served in the Korean Conflict, duty at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, and Clark Air Base, Philippines.

He would soon be assigned as an instructor with the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM) in San Antonio, Texas. There, Dr. Tredici would earn the distinguished title of USAF Flight Surgeon. During the mid-60s, he served in Vietnam as an eye surgeon. He was then promoted to the newly formed Chief of the Aerospace Ophthalmology Branch at USAFSAM.

Tredici eventually retired from active duty in 1987 at the age of 65. It is claimed that he was the last B-17 pilot to retire from active duty. But he was not ready to quit working, and the leadership at USAFSAM knew it. They advertised a senior scientist civil service position, which Tredici was awarded. He continued to serve in this capacity until 2011, when USAFSAM moved from San Antonio, Texas to Dayton, Ohio. The move to Dayton was the result of the third and final round of the Base Realignment and Closure actions — an action Tom would claim was a waste of money.

USAFSAM leadership awarded him emeritus status, and he continued to work on manuscripts and journal articles at Brooks until his death on April 28, 2021. He would routinely show up for work everyday in the early afternoon and work until late at night. This continued until the pandemic hit. Then, he continued to work from home, while under the careful watch of his daughter, Lucia.

During his working career, Tredici published almost 300 journal articles and conducted about the same number of presentations. His computer files contain numerous other documents, many of which he planned to publish but never got around to them. He never bragged about his accomplishments, but was always ready to share stories.

A few of the accomplishments considered noteworthy are:

  • Served his country in the military during WW2, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam.
  • Considered by many as the most influential ophthalmologist in the field of Aerospace Medicine.
  • Awarded status of Fellow in the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA), presenting papers every year for 50 years in a row.
  • Awarded Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award by the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
  • Taught tens of thousands of military medical personnel during his tenure at USAFSAM.
  • Helped develop the gold visor for Apollo astronauts (for eye protection).
  • Revised vision standards for AF pilots, allowing pilots to fly with corrective lenses/surgery.
  • Annually returned about 1,000 grounded aircrew (due to vision deficiencies) to flying status.
  • Helped design aviator goggles.
  • Helped develop the hard contact lens.
  • Developed a new treatment for glaucoma.
  • Happened to be at Forbes Field when Babe Ruth hit number 714 (especially proud of this one).

Tom took pride in his Italian heritage, his hometown of Monessen and his family and friends. He would always weave into a discussion something important about his family and his youth. There can be no doubt that he felt blessed to grow up when and where he did, and to meet the people he met during his professional career. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Gen Chuck Yeager are only two of the more well-known people Tredici cared for as a physician. A photo of Buzz Aldrin on the moon, displaying the gold visor that Tom helped NASA develop, was always in sight of his desk. The photo is one of the most popular photos of all time.

Tredici’s education began in the Mon Valley and it would eventually enable him to help NASA place a fellow patriot on the moon. There is so much more to Tredici than what could be written in this short article. His accomplishments are many, and his friends are legion. The USAF is better because of him. Those of us who knew him all know we lost a good friend and colleague … and at the same time our country lost a national treasure.

His memory will live on via his friends, family and colleagues. Col. Tredici, we salute you. Hail, Farewell and Happy Landings!