[I]n 1944 [he] enlisted in the United States Navy’s corpsman program, serving in a naval hospital in New York . . . In 1953 . . . 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.
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. 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.