Thomas Anthony Dooley III

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Thomas Anthony Dooley III
Black and white photograph of Tom Dooley. A white adult man holding two children of Asian descent in his arms.
Thomas A. Dooley, M.D.
Born (1927-01-17)January 17, 1927
St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.
Died January 18, 1961(1961-01-18) (aged 34)
Nationality American
Occupation Physician
Known for Humanitarianism

Thomas Anthony Dooley III (January 17, 1927 – January 18, 1961) was an American who, while serving as a physician in the United States Navy and afterwards, became famous for his humanitarian and anti-communist political activities in South East Asia and the United States until his early death from cancer. He authored three popular books that described his activities in Vietnam and Laos: Deliver Us From Evil, The Edge of Tomorrow, and The Night They Burned the Mountain. These three were later collected into a single volume and published as "Dr. Tom Dooley's Three Great Books." The book jacket of "The Edge of Tomorrow" states that Dooley traveled "to a remote part of the world in order to combat the two greatest evils afflicting it: disease and Communism.[1]

Early life[edit]

Thomas Anthony Dooley III was born January 17, 1927, in St. Louis, Missouri, and raised in a prominent Roman Catholic Irish-American household. He attended St. Roch Catholic School and St. Louis University High School, where he was a classmate (class of 1944) of Michael Harrington. He then went to college at the University of Notre Dame in 1944 and enlisted in the United States Navy's corpsman program, serving in a naval hospital in New York. In 1946, he returned to Notre Dame leaving without receiving a degree. In 1948, Dooley entered the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. When he graduated in 1953, after repeating his final year of medical school, he reenlisted in the navy. He completed his residency at Camp Pendleton, California, and then at Yokosuka Japan. In 1954, he was assigned to the USS Montague which was traveling to Vietnam to evacuate refugees and transport them from communist-controlled North Vietnam to non-communist South Vietnam.[2]

Humanitarian and author[edit]

In May 1954, the Geneva Agreements divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel north into two political zones. People north of the 17th parallel lived under the Viet Minh government, and those south of the 17th parallel lived under the government of Ngo Dinh Diem. Hanoi and Haiphong remained free zones until May 1955. In August 1954, Dooley transferred to Task Force Ninety, a unit participating in the evacuation of over 600,000 North Vietnamese known as Operation Passage to Freedom. Here Dooley served as a French interpreter and medical officer for a Preventative Medicine Unit in Haiphong. He eventually oversaw the building and maintenance of refugee camps in Haiphong until May 1955, when the Viet Minh took over the city.[3]

While Dooley was working in refugee camps in Haiphong in 1954 and 1955, some have alleged that he came to the attention of Lieutenant Colonel Edward G. Lansdale, head of a CIA office in Saigon. According to these allegations, Dooley was chosen as a symbol of Vietnamese-American cooperation, and was encouraged to write about his experiences in the refugee camps. Father Maynard Kegler on researching Dooley's life for possible canonization received almost 500 CIA files through the Freedom of Information Act that showed Dooley had provided the CIA with information about the sentiments of villagers and movements of troops around his hospitals in Laos in the late 1950s.[4] Kegler concluded that although Dooley did provide the CIA with some information, he never initiated contact with them, he took no money, his motivation was patriotism, and he hoped this would afford him "more freedom to do his work and a little less harassment." [5]

William Lederer, author of The Ugly American, helped initiate this phase of Dooley's career. Lederer, who was at the time serving as a press officer, attached to the admiralty, appreciated the eloquence of Dooley's situation reports, and suggested that he write a book.[6]

In 1956, Dooley's book Deliver Us from Evil was released and became a best-seller, establishing him as an icon of American humanitarian and anti-communist activities abroad. Dooley's vivid accounts of communist atrocities committed on the refugees are not fully substantiated by other sources. According to journalist Randy Shilts, Dooley was on a promotional tour for this book when he was investigated for participating in homosexual activities.[7] It seems that what the Navy discovered about Dooley's private life resulted in a negotiated agreement that he would announce he was leaving the Navy in order to serve the people of Vietnam.[8]

After leaving the Navy, Dooley and three former Navy corpsmen, established a hospital near Luang Namtha, Laos. the hospital was five miles south of the Chinese border. In an article entitled "Why I'm A Jungle Medic," printed in Think magazine, June 1958, Dooley said they chose Laos because the country, with 3,000,000 people, had only one "bonafide" doctor.[9] Dooley went on to establish additional medical clinics and hospitals under the sponsorship of the International Rescue Committee. He explained to the Laotian Minister of Health that he wished to work in an area near the Chinese border because "there are sick people there and furthermore people who had been flooded with potent draughts of anti-Western propaganda from Red China."[10] Dooley founded the Medical International Cooperation Organization (MEDICO) under the auspices of which he built hospitals at Nam Tha, Muong Sing, and Ban Houei Sa. The plan for MEDICO was that it would build, stock, supply, and train staff for small hospitals; after 16 months, MEDICO planned to turn over these hospitals to the host country's government.[11] During this same time period, he wrote two books, The Edge of Tomorrow and The Night They Burned the Mountain, about his experience in Laos, including descriptions of atrocities he said were committed by communist soldiers.

In 1959, Dooley returned to the United States for cancer treatment. He agreed to Fred W. Friendly's request that his melanoma surgery be the subject of a CBS News documentary.[12] On April 21, 1960, Biography of a Cancer was broadcast; it was hosted by Howard K. Smith and included the surgery and an interview with Dooley.[13][14] Dooley died less than a year later.

According to James Fisher's comprehensive biography, Dooley remained a devout Catholic until his death. At his funeral, U.S. Sen. Stuart Symington described him as “One of those rare Americans who is truly a citizen of the world.” [15] After his death, John F. Kennedy cited Dooley's example when he launched the Peace Corps. Dooley was also awarded a Congressional Gold Medal after his death. He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

Importance and Legacy[edit]

A 1959 Gallup Poll named Dooley the 7th most admired man in the world according to the American public. But thereafter, Dooley's legacy became intertwined with the politicized history of the Vietnam War. As a result, writers continue to struggle with the doctor's record of philanthropy and the later American war in Southeast Asia. The predominant trend in academic histories has unfortunately been to treat Dooley's legacy as a referendum on the Vietnam War, rather than of the man himself. Authors critical of the Vietnam War therefore trace American involvement in Vietnam back to Dooley's 1956 book Deliver Us From Evil. Thus, in 1969, Nicholas von Hoffman wrote that Dr. Dooley helped create "the climate of public misunderstanding that made the war in Vietnam possible." But a more circumspect evaluation has been made by James T. Fisher, author of 'Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas Dooley, 1927-1961'. While detailing the Dooley hagiography of the 1950s, Fisher points out that "those who [later] sought to debunk Dooley's legend were no less prone to lapses in factuality."[16] For example, the historian Seth Jacobs is highly critical of Dooley and, like von Hoffman, argues the doctor is guilty of misleading the American public into the Vietnam War. But to build this argument, Jacobs exaggerates evidence and makes errors when detailing aspects of Dooley's life.[original research?][17]

Despite Dooley’s problematic descriptions of Southeast Asia, Laotians dubbed him "Thanh Mo America" ("Dr. America"), and Dooley himself was frequently critical of United States actions in the region. He observed: “We are hated in most of the Orient. ... They think freedom means freedom of the capitalist to exploit the Oriental people. No Americans have ever gotten down to their level.”[18]

He also set personal high standards for MEDICO physicians, and sought to make his Operation Laos a people-to-people project.[19] According to Ted Hesburgh, he refused Dwight D. Eisenhower's offer to use government funds to assist in his work. [20] MEDICO depended primarily upon volunteers and private donations; by 1960 over 2000 physicians had applied to serve as volunteers, and new teams for medical assistance were established in Haiti, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. [21]

Dooley's legacy continues through the work of several organizations, including some organizations founded by people who knew and worked with him. Dr. Verne Chaney, for example, a surgeon, who worked with Dooley in Cambodia, founded the Dooley Foundation-Intermed International, an organization that provides medical equipment, supplies, personnel and financial support for the improvement of health services in underdeveloped countries [22] Betty Tisdale, who met Dooley and was inspired by his work, founded H.A.L.O.(Helping And Loving Orphans).[23][24] Just prior to the fall of Vietnam, she orchestrated the evacuation and adoption of 219 Vietnamese orphans to homes in the US. Today, Betty Tisdale and H.A.L.O. continue Dooley's work around the world, with people of all religions, to help orphans and at-risk children not only in Vietnam, but also in Mexico, Colombia, Indonesia and Afghanistan.[25][26][27] And, Teresa Gallagher, a volunteer who worked with Dooley, along with Dooley's brother, Malcolm, established the Dr. Tom Dooley Foundation that is dedicated to delivering medical care to people of the Third World; Dr. Jerry Brown, a 2013 graduate of the Foundation's program in Cameroon was among the "Ebola Fighters" named as the Time Person of the Year for 2014.[28]

The Dr. Tom Dooley Society of Notre Dame, an organization for medical alumni of Notre Dame, describes its mission as dedication to education, mentorship and global service to humanity. The Dooley Society awards current Notre Dame students and graduates stipends to participate in international medical mission trips.[29] The St. Louis University Dr. Tom Dooley Memorial Scholarship Program also provides opportunities for medical students to enhance their understanding of medicine in less developed and underprivileged countries.[30] The Gay and Lesbian Alumni of the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College (GALA-ND/SMC) present a yearly Thomas A. Dooley Award to an individual who, through his or her faith-based background, have demonstrated personal courage, compassion and commitment to advance the human and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.[31]

Dooley is memorialized at the University of Notre Dame's Grotto of Our Lady, with a statue as well as an engraved copy of a letter he wrote to former Notre Dame president Ted Hesburgh.[32]


Media Appearances[edit]


  • Dooley, Thomas A., Deliver Us from Evil: The Story of Vietnam’s Flight to Freedom (New York : Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1956)
  • Dooley, Thomas A., The Edge of Tomorrow (New York, N.Y. : New American Library, 1958) ISBN 0-374-14648-9
  • Dooley, Thomas A., The Night They Burned the Mountain (New York : Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1960) ISBN 0-374-22212-6

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Edge of Tomorrow book jacket, front flap
  2. ^
  3. ^
  5. ^ "18 Years After Dr. Tom Dooley's Death, a Priest Insists He Was a Saint, Not a CIA Spook" by Rosemary Rawson, People Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 5, July 30, 1979,,20074218,00.html
  6. ^
  7. ^ Shilts, pp. 25—26
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ The Edge of Tomorrow p. 18
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^ For example Jacobs writes that at the time of his death in 1961, a Gallup Poll found Dooley the third most esteemed man in the world, following former president Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Pope (see Seth Jacobs, America's Miracle Man in Vietnam (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), pp. 138-139) However, Dooley made just one appearance in Gallup's poll, ranking seventh in late 1959 after his cancer documentary aired on CBS, (The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 1935-1971, Volume III: 1959-1971 (NY: Random House, 1971), 1747.)
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ Fisher, James. "Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley". 
  33. ^
  34. ^


  • Barber, Melanie Gordon, The third anniversary : anatomy and progress : in memory of Doctor Thomas Anthony Dooley, January 17, 1927-January 18, 1961 (Taconic, CN : Bardon Press, 1965)
  • Fisher, James T., Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961 (Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press, 1997) ISBN 1-55849-067-1
  • Gallagher, Teresa, Give joy to my youth; a memoir of Dr. Tom Dooley (New York, Farrar : Straus and Giroux, 1965)
  • Monahan, James, Before I sleep; the last days of Dr. Tom Dooley (New York : Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1961)
  • Selsor, Lucille, "Sincerely, Tom Dooley" (New York : Twin Circle, 1969)
  • Shilts, Randy (1993). Conduct Unbecoming: Gays & Lesbians in the U.S. Military Vietnam to the Persian Gulf. New York, St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-09261-X
  • February 2000 Fisher, J.T. Dooley, Thomas Anthony, III. American National Biography Online

External links[edit]