From Mon Valley to the Moon: A Life Well Lived

Colonel Thomas J. Tredici, USAF (Ret.): August 27, 1922 to April 28, 2021

by Lt.Col. Bill Ercoline, USAF (Ret.)

Colonel (Doctor) Tredici in front ot a B-17 in 1987

Thomas J. Tredici was born in 1922 in the small steel producing town of Monessen. The town is located in southwestern Pennsylvania along the Monongahela River, an area known to the locals as Mon Valley. After high school, Tom 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. 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.  Tom survived the other-than-obvious hazards associated with flying high-altitude missions, sans life support technology such as cabin pressurization and eye protection. His experiences in combat would go onto inform his later career as an opthalmologist.

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

Following college graduation, Tom applied for and was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh Medical School. He completed his ophthalmology residency at the University of Pittsburgh in 1956. Following residency, Dr. Tredici returned to active military duty as a medical officer.  In the Korean conflict, he served at Scott AFB, Illinois and Clark AB, Philippines. 

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

Tom eventually retired from uniform in 1987 at the age of 65.  It is claimed that he was the last B-17 pilot to retire from active duty.  But Col. Tredici was not ready to quit working, and the leadership at USAFSAM knew it.  They advertised a senior scientist position in the civil service, which Tom 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 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 28th, 2021.  Dr. Tredici would routinely show up for work everyday in the early afternoon and work until late at night.  This continued until the pandemic hit.  Beginning in March 2020, Tom would continue to work from home under the careful watch of his daughter, Lucia.   

During his working career, Tom published almost three hundred 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 had the opportunity to.  Col. Tredici never bragged about his accomplishments, but was always ready to share stories. 

President Lydon B. Johnson and General Chuck Yeager are only two of the more well-known people Tom 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. 

A few of his other noteworthy accomplishments are:

  • Served in uniform during WWII, 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 fifty years in a row
  • Awarded Inaugural Lifetime Achievement by the Department of Ophthalmology at the UTHSCSA
  • 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 Air Force pilots, allowing pilots to fly with corrective lenses/surgery
  • Annually returned about 1,000 aircrew who had been grounded 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 – he was especially proud of this one

Dr. Tredici took pride in his Italian heritage, his home town 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.  Tom’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 Tom Tredici than what could be written in this short article.  His accomplishments are many and his friends are legion.  The United States Air Force is better today because of him.  Those of us who knew him all know we lost a good friend and colleague…and that our country has lost a national treasure.

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

Volabamus…Volamus (We Flew…We Fly)

Lt. Tom Tredici in 1944