On this date the American physician and writer TOM DOOLEY was born (d. 1961). Born in St. Louis, Missouri as Thomas Anthony Dooley III, Dooley was an American Catholic who, while serving as a physician in the United States Navy, became increasingly famous for his humanitarian and anti-Communist activities in South East Asia during the late 1950s until his early death from cancer. Based on his experiences working in Vietnam and Laos, he authored a number of popular anti-communist books in the years preceding the Vietnam War.
According to classmate Michael Harrington, Dooley never attempted to hide his same-sex orientation. Even after cancer surgery in 1960, Dooley resorted to the 2nd floor of Bangkok’s Erawan Hotel, a “central preserve of his Gay life in Southeast Asia.” The best-known victim of military homophobia in Randy Shilts’s book Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military is Thomas A. Dooley, the jungle doctor of Laos and folk hero to millions of American Catholics in the late 1950s.
Shilts describes the U.S. Navy’s frenzied investigation of Dooley’s sexuality while Dooley was on the American lecture circuit in early 1956, promoting Deliver Us from Evil, the best-selling, highly embellished account of his role in the Navy’s 1954 “Operation Passage to Freedom,” which transplanted over 600,000 Catholics from North Vietnam to the new regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in the South. Fearing a scandal that would diminish its own prestige, the Navy hounded Dooley into confessing his homosexuality following a campaign of surveillance and perhaps entrapment by Office of Naval Intelligence operatives who bugged Dooley’s phone and eavesdropped on his hotel room conversations.
After leaving the navy, Dooley went to Laos to establish medical clinics and hospitals under the sponsorship of the International Rescue Committee. Dooley founded the Medical International Cooperation Organization (MEDICO) under the auspices of which he built hospitals. 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.
In 1959 Dooley returned to the United States for cancer treatment; he died in 1961 from malignant melanoma, just one day after his 34th birthday. Following his death John F. Kennedy cited Dooley’s example when he launched the Peace Corps. He was also awarded a Congressional Gold Medal posthumously. There have been efforts following his death to have him canonized as a Roman Catholic saint.