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Thomas A. Dooley III (1927 – 1961)

Thomas Dooley was a doctor who organized medical aid clinics in Southeast Asia during the 1950s. His books introduced many Americans to the growing conflict in Southeast Asia, which would eventually result in the Vietnam
Vietnam is a nation in Southeast Asia that is bordered on its north by China. For the first half of the twentieth century it was a colony of France, but after World War II Vietnamese forces fought the French for independence. The French left in 1954 and Vietnam was divided in half. Ho Chi Minh, a Communist, led the north, and Ngo Dinh Diem controlled the south. The Vietnamese people were divided because of differing views on government and culture.

In the years after World War II, world leaders were very concerned about communism spreading and created a "containment policy" to block its advance. U.S. President John F. Kennedy pledged to help South Vietnam fight against the Communists, and in 1963 the United States began sending military personnel to the region. This action was the beginning of America's long military involvement in Southeast Asia against communism.

The number of U.S. forces in Vietnam increased throughout the 1960s under President Lyndon B. Johnson. When Richard M. Nixon was elected president in 1968, he vowed to end the conflict in Vietnam. After initial heavy bombing of the north, troops were gradually removed and the last of them were gone by March 1973. North Vietnam invaded the south and overthrew Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, on April 30, 1975, ending the war with the entire country under the rule of the Communists, who remain in power today.

Thomas A. Dooley III was born on January 17, 1927. His parents, Thomas A. Dooley Jr. and Agnes Wise Dooley, were members of a prominent Irish Catholic family in St. Louis. Dooley attended private schools in the city and graduated from St. Louis University High School in 1944.

Dooley went to the University of Notre Dame for a short time before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. While in the military, Dooley served as a medical corpsman in naval hospitals in New York and California. He briefly returned to Notre Dame before being admitted to the St. Louis University School of Medicine in 1948. As a medical student, Dooley was inconsistent and often skipped class. He was forced to repeat his senior year.

After finally graduating from medical school in 1953, Dooley was not allowed to begin a residency in St. Louis because his professors did not believe he was ready. He decided to reenlist in the navy. From 1954 to 1955 he participated in Operation Passage to Freedom, which assisted refugees evacuating from communist
Communism is a political and economic system where the ultimate goal is to create a society where all resources and benefits in a nation are owned by the public and shared equally among all citizens, thereby destroying social and economic inequality. The communist dictatorships that emerged in the twentieth century promoted a rigid style of government that clashed with the ideas of economic and political freedom held by many Americans, causing tension between the United States and nations that embraced communism. After World War I, the U.S. government fiercely attacked suspected promoters of communism in America. This happened again after World War II, and led to an intense competition between the U.S. and its democratic allies around the world and the USSR and its communist allies during the Cold War, which lasted from the late 1940s until the collapse of European communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
North Vietnam to South Vietnam. Dooley acted as a spokesman for the cause. His experiences in Vietnam led him to write a best-selling book, Deliver Us from Evil.
Dooley’s anticommunist views quickly made him a popular figure not only in Catholic circles, but also in American society as a whole. His fame came at a time when many Americans were afraid communists would take over the government. Years after his death, it was revealed that Dooley was being used by the CIA
The Central Intelligence Agency was established in 1947 and is charged with gathering and analyzing information from other countries in order to protect the national security of the United States. The CIA is a U.S. government agency with employees stationed at many locations around the world. It carries out or oversees covert activities and some tactical operations by its own employees, by members of the U.S. military, or by other partners.
for propaganda
In contrast to journalism, which is the sharing of factual information to inform the public of current news and events, propaganda is the sharing of select information, sometimes true or partially true but often riddled with lies, rumors, and inaccuracies, to influence public opinion. Propaganda has often helped sway American public opinion, particularly in gaining public support for America's war efforts or for positions on political issues.
Dr. Thomas Dooley treats a Laotian woman, 1959 Dooley treats a Laotian woman Dr. Thomas Dooley treats a Laotian woman, 1959

[Thomas A. Dooley Papers (S0464), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-St. Louis]

During a publicity tour for his book in early 1956, Dooley was quietly forced to resign from the navy because of his sexual orientation. However, he did not let this incident slow him down. Almost immediately, Dooley announced he was returning to Southeast Asia to set up a medical missions operation in Laos. The first clinic was established in the fall of 1956. While working in Laos, Dooley maintained a weekly radio program, That Free Men May Live, which was broadcast on KMOX in St. Louis.

In the next few years, Dooley wrote two more books, The Edge of Tomorrow and The Night They Burned the Mountain, both about his medical work in Laos. He also focused on raising funds to expand medical missions throughout the world. The new organization was called MEDICO (Medical International Cooperation) and flourished in the beginning because of Dooley’s celebrity status as an author and public speaker. His popularity likely paved the way for John F. Kennedy to become the first Catholic president of the United States.

Unfortunately, Dooley’s success was brief. Diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin cancer in 1959, he died in New York on January 18, 1961.

Without Dooley’s strong personality to keep it going, MEDICO was soon absorbed by the relief organization CARE. However, Dooley’s humanitarian efforts continued to inspire others. When President Kennedy created the Peace Corps
The Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Its goal was to send young people to developing countries to help with community service projects and promote economic development.
in 1961, he cited Dooley’s service as an example.
Text and research by Elizabeth Engel


References and Resources

For more information about Thomas Dooley's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about Thomas Dooley in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.

  • Articles from the Newspaper Collection
    • "Dr. T.A. Dooley, Jungle Doctor, Dies of Cancer." St. Louis Post-Dispatch. January 19, 1961. p. 1A.
  • Books
    • Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 251-252. [REF F508 D561]
    • Dooley, Thomas A. Dr. Tom Dooley's Three Great Books: Deliver Us from Evil, The Edge of Tomorrow [and] The Night They Burned the Mountain. New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960. [REF 921 D72d]
    • Fisher, James T. Dr. America: The Lives of Thomas A. Dooley, 1927-1961. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. [REF 921 D72f]
  • Manuscript Collection
    • Dooley, Thomas A. (1927-1961), Papers (S0464)
      The Thomas A. Dooley papers document his family history and education, his work in Vietnam and Laos, and his role as a shaper of American public opinion about Southeast Asia. The collection also contains information on Dooley's cancer operation, his death, posthumous honors, and efforts to have him canonized.
    • Medicine in the Jungle Web Exhibit, Collection, 1959-1999 (S0651)
      This collection is a compilation of material gathered by Sonya McDonald during her research and creation of a web exhibit, Medicine in the Jungle: Dr. Thomas Dooley and Earl Rhine in Laos, using the Earl Rhine Papers and the Thomas A. Dooley Papers. Information in the collection ranges from 1959 to 2002.

Historic Missourians: Thomas A. Dooley III
Thomas DooleyThomas A. Dooley III (1927 – 1961).

[Thomas A. Dooley Papers (S0464), The State Historical Society of Missouri, Manuscript Collection-St. Louis]

Thomas A. Dooley III

Born: January 17, 1927
Died: January 18, 1961 (age 34)
Category: Doctors
Region of Missouri: St. Louis
Missouri Hometown: St. Louis