1927 - 1961

“Dedicate some of your life to others. Your dedication will not be a sacrifice. It will be an exhilarating experience because it is an intense effort applied toward a meaningful end.”

– Thomas Dooley

As a navy doctor, Dooley supervised a medical assistance program for more than 600,000 refugees fleeing from North Vietnam to the south in 1954; he later established a network of hospitals and clinics in Southeast Asia to serve the rural poor. Dooley — who was considered America's answer to renowned humanitarian Albert Schweitzer - was named the seventh most-admired man in the U.S. in a 1959 Gallup poll. That same year, following an anonymous tip, the Navy launched an elaborate six-week investigation — that included wire-tapping private phones and monitoring his personal contacts — which resulted in Lieutenant Dr. Tom Dooley being threatened with a dishonorable discharge from the military for being gay. His willingness to cooperate with authorities, who burnished his reputation in order to leverage public support for the Viet Nam War, was rewarded with an Honorable Discharge. This has made him a figure of controversy in many quarters. The internecine machinations behind his legend are a perfect example of the many "accommodations" the military and the sate department granted to some gay people for political reasons, while others, who were deemed expendable, had their lives destroyed by those same forces. In contrast, Dooley - a man caught in the cross-hairs of history at the same time he was revealed to be gay - was hailed as an inspirational example of one man's commitment to a greater cause when President John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps... proof that history is seldom as clear-cut as we are led to believe. Dooley was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1961. A statue dedicated in his honor stands at the University of Notre Dame.

Lesson Plan


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Faith Construct Catholic

Nations Affiliated United States Laos

Era/Epoch Cold War (1945-1991) Vietnam War (1955-1975)

Field(s) of Contribution





Social Justice

Social Sciences

STEM & Medicine

US History

Commemorations & Honors

Dr. Tom Dooley Society of Notre Dame

University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College LGBT Allumni Annual Thomas A. Dooley Award

Medical International Cooperation Organization Founder

Navy Legion of Merit Awardee (1955)

Posthumous Congressional Gold Medal Awardee (1961)

Posthumous Army Distinguished Service Medal (1969)

Statue Dedicated to Dooley at University of Notre Dame (1986)


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell