Dr. Tom Dooley

President Obama signed into law today an act which repeals Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the airwaves are bound to be filled with accounts of soldiers cruelly-treated on account of their sexuality.

I want to briefly add one to their number: Dr. Tom Dooley, a Navy doctor celebrated worldwide during the 1950s for humanitarian work in Vietnam and Laos, and whose three books I read, and was moved and inspired by, while in high school.

Bio at Wikipedia:

While Dooley was working in refugee camps in Haiphong, some have alleged that he came to the attention of Lieutenant Colonel Edward G. Lansdale, head of the CIA detail 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. Some other unsubstantiated reports indicate that he collected intelligence for the CIA. In 1956 his book Deliver Us from Evil was released, establishing Dooley as a strong humanitarian. While on a promotional tour for the book, Dooley was investigated for participating in homosexual activities and was forced to resign from the Navy in March 1956.

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 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.

In 1959 Dooley returned to the United States for cancer treatment; he died in 1961 from malignant melanoma. Following his death John F. Kennedy cited Dooley’s example when he launched the Peace Corps.


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 (ONI) operatives who bugged Dooley’s phone and eavesdropped on his hotel room conversations.

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