Michael Hamar

Remembering Past Gays in the Military

Filed By Michael Hamar | December 27, 2010 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Don't Ask Don't Tell, false Christians, gays in the military, religious based bigotry, Tom Dooley, Vietnam

With the legislative repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, thankfully future generations of gays in the military will not find themselves living in fear of outings and expulsion from careers that many of them truly love. Likewise, the military will not be foolishly loosing great talent and expertise solely to satisfy the religion-based bigotry of a segment of society that daily proves itself to be anything but Christian in the true sense of the Gospel message.

It's important, however to remember that the religion-based bigotry against gays existed long before the passage of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and goes back many, many decades. In the mid-1970's Leonard Matlovich, recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, received much publicity when he was forced from the military. His tombstone bears the epitaph "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one." But there were notable gays before Matlovich who likewise lost their military careers.

Thanks to a post by straight ally Bob Felton at Civil Commotion, I was reminded of another such past high profile gay in the military. This man received a Congressional Gold Medal, the Legion of Merit and National Order of Vietnam, yet was forced to resign from the Navy because of his sexual orientation. The man's name?

Dr. Thomas Anthony Dooley (pictured above left in center), a man some Catholics even wanted canonized after his untimely early death at age 34 because of his world renown humanitarian efforts. Ironically, though forced to leave the military, he was given a military funeral with a U.S. Navy Honor Guard. Here's some highlights from Dooley's life and career:

[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.

Dooley's life was an example of what real Christians are about (more information can be found here)- unlike today's professional hate merchants such as Maggie Gallagher, Tony Perkins, James Dobson and others of their ilk. Just think what could be accomplished if the funds spent to stigmatize gays and deprive us of legal equality were applied in a manner such as what Dooley did with his short life.


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Thank you so much for this post, Michael! I had the good fortune to be a personal friend of Leonard Matlovich during the last 13 years of his life, and I am always appreciative when people keep his memory alive. Although you are correct that countless others before him lost their military careers due to sexual orientation, I do believe that Mat was the first to come out voluntarily, with the specific intent to present a legal challenge to the military on civil rights grounds.

Thank you also for letting us know about Dr. Dooley -- I wasn't aware of him before now. It is certainly an important historical note that the man whose work inspired President Kennedy to form the Peace Corps was, for a period of his life, a gay servicemember, and that he got kicked out because of that. Clearly the story of this very caring and able man should be included in our common awareness about how gay men and women were once needlessly excluded from serving our country.

Thank you for the mention of my late friend Leonard, Mr. Hamar. And to amplify what AJ wrote, yes, he was the first to purposely out himself to fight the ban that began during WWII and had discharged over 100,000 by the time it was legally converted into DADT.

See 1975 TV news coverage at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkPpRK3IT_w

For years, Movement pioneer Frank Kameny, who had long been a gay service members only real source of advice, looked for a "perfect test case"—someone unknown with a clean, even superior record, unknown to be gay to the military versus someone discovered to be gay an willing to fight it. There was a case of the latter in 1972 of two lesbians but their effort to get an injunction stopping their discharge was immediately shot down and they, apparently, didn't pursue any legal appeals. And a couple of gay men had fought their "less than honorable" discharge classifications but not the discharge itself. The one to get the most public attention was sailor Robert Martin [aka Stephen Donaldson] whom some members of Congress such as Bella Abzug fought unsuccessfully for. Before joining the Navy he had started the first ever gay group on a college campus [Columbia, 1966]. His mentor was...wait for it...Frank Kameny.

Finally, there is another connection between Tom Dooley and Leonard Matlovich. A man, now dead, whose name I don't care to repeat, convinced Randy Shilts, author of the landmark "Conduct Unbecoming," that, miracle of miracles, decades apart, he had been the lover of BOTH men. I can't speak to whether he even knew Dooley, but while he and Leonard were friends they were never partners.

Great story! Are you gay or lesbian and serving in the military? Thank you for your service! Join http://OutMilitary.com and be counted!

Likewise, Matt was a friend and a very brave soldier, and a stronger patriot.

Going back a bit further in American military history, the US Army Field Manual was originally written for George Washington by a 'gay' man, Friedrich von Steuben. He had been expelled from the Prussian Army for alleged homosexual behavior, and met Benjamin Franklin in Paris. His influence is arguably what made the difference between the success and failure of the American Revolution.
In the end, the "Father" of the US Army was nobody's Daddy: He died with no heirs, his estate being left to his two former Aides de Camp from Valley Forge with whom he had an "extraordinarily intense emotional relationship ... treating them as surrogate sons".

Going back a bit further in American military history, the US Army Field Manual was originally written for George Washington by a 'gay' man, Friedrich von Steuben. He had been expelled from the Prussian Army for alleged homosexual behavior, and met Benjamin Franklin in Paris. His influence is arguably what made the difference between the success and failure of the American Revolution.
In the end, the "Father" of the US Army was nobody's Daddy: He died with no heirs, his estate being left to his two former Aides de Camp from Valley Forge with whom he had an "extraordinarily intense emotional relationship ... treating them as surrogate sons".