Deacon Joseph R. Tedeschi and the cover of his book "A Rock in the Clouds: A Life Revisited." Courtesy photos
Deacon Joseph R. Tedeschi and the cover of his book "A Rock in the Clouds: A Life Revisited." Courtesy photos

“On Oct. 4, 1966, a C7-A Caribou airplane flying through dense fog crashed into Hon Cong Mountain near the base camp of the 1st Air Cavalry Division at An Khe in South Vietnam. There were thirty-one people aboard the aircraft, an air crew of four along with twenty-seven passengers. Thirteen people died in the crash. I was one of the survivors.”

That paragraph, composed by Deacon Joseph R. Tedeschi, appears on the back jacket of his book, “A Rock in the Clouds: A Life Revisited,” $27.95 out from Köehler Books. It’s enough to compel even the most blasé reader to open the 267-page retelling of his miraculous survival and journey of faith that unfolded in the wake of the crash and the years that followed.

Ordained a permanent deacon for the Trenton Diocese in 2002, Deacon Tedeschi, 86, served the parish community of St. Mary of the Lakes, Medford, until 2020 when he retired from active ministry. In an interview, he recalled how the tragic nature of the crash and the lives lost would set him on a decades long search for information about the crash and those who lived and died as a result of it.

The search culminated in the book, the title of which, he explained in the forward, is drawn from a descriptive saying among pilots and old flying hands that when an aircraft is flying blind through thick clouds and fog and it collides with an object hidden by them, it has literally found “a rock in the clouds.”

Saving Grace

Deacon Tedeschi attended St. Lawrence University, West Point, and Iowa University before joining the Army in 1957. Sent to Vietnam in 1966, he was only in the country for three weeks before the crash, followed by a year of recovery from very serious injuries in Japan and bases in the United States.

Describing the crash as a major turning point, he wrote that “all airplane crashes are tragedies. But under wartime conditions, the resulting chaos is magnified. The tempo of war demands that all the pieces be put together quickly, and the brisk pace of war continues. But for the survivors involved in a crash, the pace of the war suddenly stops, and they have the remainder of their lives to reflect and ponder numerous unanswered questions.”

Such was the case for him. With the support of his wife, Sue, and daughters Susanne and Marly, he embarked on a 47-year quest to put those pieces together, compiling comprehensive information on his own military and professional careers and all who survived and perished.

Special note is paid to Bob Ray, his companion in faith and fellow survivor. There is moving correspondence from survivors and witnesses of the scene who share their memories of the crash and insights about the abiding effect it had on their lives.

A very stirring inclusion is the Appendix A Virtual Vietnam Wall with casualty data on those who perished, photos of medals they were awarded and even in some instances, photos that bring their dear faces into view.

“I needed to pay them back for some very good things in my life…” Deacon Tedeschi said. Most of all, he wanted to share the story of the faith of the military community he encountered while serving in Vietnam and afterward.

“I wanted to spread the story of faith and get it out there,” said Deacon Tedeschi. He acknowledged that he was powerfully motivated by the fact that he and Bob Ray attended Mass the morning of the crash and received the Eucharist. He remains convinced that receiving the Real Presence on that morning was a factor in their survival.

Answering the Call

Active in his parish, as he transitioned from full time careers to retirement, his memories of military colleagues who devoted themselves to serving the Church in their later years provided inspiration for the next step.

Encouraged by his pastor at the time, Father Joseph Tedesco, who sponsored him, he embarked on studies for the diaconate formation program and over the years, along with his wife, he led parish consolation ministry and other groups “enjoying every minute of it.”

Putting the book together was a major part of this active retirement. “It evolved over the years. It didn’t happen all at once. It took 47 years and came together at different points, and I finally realized there was enough for a book.”

He’s given presentations to local organizations, including the local Knights of Columbus and civic groups, and plans to contribute any proceeds from the book to the Gary Sinise Foundation which benefits veterans of the Vietnam war.

And he’s very heartened by the positive response. “I wrote it for family and friends and all of a sudden, (interest) started blossoming,” he said. “My editor asked me to submit it to a military writers society. I’m flabbergasted at the response I’m getting.”