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 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.

Humanitarian and author[edit]

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.[2] Kegler concluded that Dooley was a CIA informant, but not a spy.[3]

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 and forced to resign from the Navy in March 1956.[4]

After leaving the Navy, Dooley went to Laos to establish 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."[5] 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. 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 describing atrocities committed by the communist soldiers.

In 1959, Dooley returned to the United States for cancer treatment; he died in 1961 from melanoma, despite repeated operations. According to James Fisher's comprehensive biography, he remained a devout Catholic until the time of his death. After his death, John F. Kennedy cited Dooley's example when he launched the Peace Corps. He was also awarded a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. Dooley was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis.

Importance and Legacy[edit]

At the time of his death, Dooley was proclaimed by a Gallup Poll to be for Americans the third most esteemed man in the world, following former president Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Pope. According to one source, however, he has since fallen from "celebrity sainthood" to obscurity.[6]

Writing of Dooley, writer Nicholas von Hoffman said in 1969 that Dooley helped create "the climate of public misunderstanding that made the war in Vietnam possible" He depicted the complex issues of Southeast Asia as a simple conflict between good and evil. The disillusion of the American people with the Vietnam War caused Dooley's moralistic anti-communism to quickly fade out of fashion.[7]It has also been claimed that he helped many people, motivated support for humanitarian activities in a then neglected part of the world, and that his work was cited by President John F. Kennedy as a reason for establishing the Peace Corps[8]

Dooley's legacy continues through the work of the Dooley Foundation-Intermed International, headed by a former associate of Dooley's, Dr. Verne Chaney. H.A.L.O. (Helping And Loving Orphans) was founded by Betty Tisdale, who met Dooley and was inspired by his work. 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.

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.[9]


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
  3. ^ "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
  4. ^ Shilts, pp. 25—26
  5. ^ The Edge of Tomorrow p. 18
  6. ^ Jacobs, Seth (2004), America's Miracle Man in Vietnam, Durham: Duke University Press, pp. 138-139
  7. ^ Jacobs, p. 140
  8. ^
  9. ^ Fisher, James. "Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley". 
  10. ^


  • 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]