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In Search of Captain Dooley

nonfiction by Keith Snow

I need no protection from my biological origins. I am not a child, nor am I unable to determine what is best for me. What I need is the Truth, and the power to control my own life. What I need is the ability to free myself from the shame, secrecy, and lies of adoption.

Author Unknown


The following documents my three year search for my biological father that has given me an identity that I can call my own. I hope others can follow in my footsteps and also open a new chapter in their life. Adoptees should not have the truth hidden from them, for we also have an innate human desire to find our true place in life.


First Notice - May 26, 1966

Dear Mom and Dad,


Well, I don’t know how to say this, but I know Dad always wanted to be a grandfather, this is ridiculous. Well, as I was saying.....I’m pregnant. Please don’t get a heart attack or nervous breakdown, but I have always been a goofed up mess. To give your mind ease - I know who the father is. I didn’t fool with the guys as you might think. I figured I was pretty careful of who I dated.

I’ll get my separation papers from Camp Smith about June 10th. Then I will go to Treasure Island, California where I will stay for about 10 days for my complete discharge, an honorable under medical conditions. Then I figure on staying on the west coast for a couple years anyway until I’m on my feet again.

By the way, I’ve lost a little over 10 lbs since I’ve been home, I didn’t figure this would go over so well, but I have to tell you. My commanding officer will be writing you soon too on the matter. It is her duty as a CO.

So if you think bad of me, please remember the rest of children most likely won’t grow up like me and be a black sheep. I will continue to write you no matter what. I guess I should grow up and act like a daughter, but please write if you can.


Lots of Love,



My Birth

I was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 21, 1966 with the name "Todd Allen Snow". My birth mother was staying with her sister in Cedar Rapids at the time. I was adopted by my grandparents several weeks after I was born so that I could stay in the family. My grandparents later changed my name to "Keith Alan Snow". I was not told that I was adopted until I was 16 years old. This had a very dramatic impact on me and left me with a lot of questions. Up to this point, I had no idea that I was adopted, it was successfully kept a secret from me. I then found out that my sister was my mother and my parents were my grandparents! Donna, who I thought was my sister, was a lot older than me and did not live at home so she was not present for my childhood. Up to this point, I had no contact with my biological mother. The first time I met her was in 1982 when she came back to Iowa from Arizona for her brother’s funeral.


Family Background

Donna was born February 25, 1947 to James and Ester Snow in Pochantas, Iowa. Her parents moved to a small community in North East Iowa where they were farmers. When Donna was 8 years old, her mother, Ester, became ill and passed away of cancer at the age of 39 years. There were now 2 boys and 2 girls who were without a mother. Within the next year, her father, James, remarried. He married a woman named Gladys, who became Donna’s stepmother. Gladys was a war bride who came to the United States from England after World War II with her American husband Bill. Gladys, who later was divorced, had 2 boys and 2 girls that she brought into her marriage with James. Donna did not like Gladys, nor did she get along with her. It stemmed from the fact that she lost her mother when she was 8 years old and this new woman was stepping in to take over. Needless to say, Donna had a rough childhood in the care of a stepmother who frequently slapped and beat her. Donna and her brother Leroy both ran away from home when they were teenagers to get away from the abuse. It seems ironic that the woman that adopted me was the same person Donna hated so much. How could this happen?


Childhood of Secrecy

After I was born, Donna was convinced by her stepmother that she could never be a good mother and that she should give me up for adoption. Gladys also told Donna that she was a whore and not fit to raise a child. After all, this was the 60’s, there was quite a stigma about being pregnant and unwed. I also believe that Donna had a willing part in giving me up for adoption. She was 19 years old, pregnant, and single. What was she going to do with a child?

James and Gladys hired a lawyer to handle the adoption. Everything was done so neat and tidy. My original birth certificate was sealed by state law, never to be seen again. My new birth certificate was a work of art, nowhere on it did it say I was adopted. This certificate said that my mother was Gladys and my father was James. Their ages were listed as 39 and 56 respectively. I was adopted and raised by my step-grandmother and grandfather as if I was their own. I had no idea that I was adopted until I was a teenager. There was such a shroud a secrecy that included everyone. My parents, brother, sisters, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, probably even family friends, no one told me.

I started to have doubts about my parents when several people in the family would slip. We were visiting an aunt in England, when she asked me how I liked living with my grandparents! I just did not get it, I thought she made a mistake. Another time we were visiting Donna’s brother Leroy in Minnesota when his wife also asked me about my grandparents. One time Gladys was mad, she made a comment how her life would have been different if she never would have adopted me. The picture was starting to get clearer, crystal clear. It was around my 16th birthday when Gladys sat me down and finally told me the truth. I was in shock. All these years and I never had a clue. But finally, a lot of questions in my mind were answered. Questions like, why were my parents so much older than my friend’s parents? Why was I treated the way I was? How come my parents never really seemed to care?


Punishment or Abuse?

I really did not grow up in a nurturing and loving environment as you might expect from your grandparents. Gladys was very strict and she would yell and hit me often. I was terrified of her growing up. Spankings seemed to be a normal occurrence. I had to be a saint, or I would get beat. The smallest thing could get you in trouble. The plastic orange hot wheels race track was Glady’s spanking item of choice, and on the bare bottom. If she thought you were real bad, you got the belt (one time I got the end with the buckle). Just to give you an example of the minor things that got me in trouble. I was suppose to wash a load of laundry, I started the water, put in the soap, but forgot the clothes. For that, I received a good spanking with the old orange racetrack. In my early years, I also had to deal with the abuse from my older brothers (like the frequent spankings weren’t enough from Gladys).

Gladys and James has a son named Gary. This guy was a real gem. He would always abuse me when he had a chance. I remember when I was in the first grade, he shoved 2-3 of his prescription sleeping pills down my throat before school. I must admit, those pills work, I slept for about 4 hours in school one day. Gary also thought it was fun to put me in a box and send me down the stairs. Another time he put me in the dryer and turned it on. The number of times Gary abused me are endless. To this day, I find it incredibly hard to believe that I am still alive. You think I’m bitter about how I grew up and how I was treated, you damn right I am!

I can’t really blame my grandfather for the way I was treated growing up because he never laid a hand on me, I know he didn’t know half of what was going on. He let Gladys raise the kids. Now that I’m a adult, I do have some respect for them, because they did feed me, put a roof over my head, made sure I had clothes to wear, but that’s about it. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but what about love and encouragement? That was never a part of my family.

Meanwhile, Donna became so bitter about giving her first born son up for adoption that she moved to Arizona and never talked to her parents again for 16 years. I was very upset with Donna for the longest time because I could not believe that she would let the person that she hated the most adopt me.


A Name - February 28, 1994

Since I was 16 years old there was always something in the back of my mind, "Who is my father?" I asked myself this question many times, but never had the guts to confront my biological mother for the answer. In 1994, I finally decided to write a letter and ask. Donna and I were never really close. Up to this point in my life I had only ever met her twice and really didn’t know her.

Donna finally answered my letter. With the letter was 2 black and white pictures of someone I had never seen before and a two brief paragraphs explaining them. The following is an except from that letter:

The 2 pictures you don’t recognize: Dennis Dooley, US Marines, was enlisted, then later commissioned. He was wounded with shrapnel in Korea 1968 or 1969. Maybe. He was my recruiter, very nice. I was young and impressionable. He was my friend. A one night thing and then there was you. I believe he was born in Wisconsin. If you’re a great detective, maybe you’ll find him. I haven’t heard from him since 1967.

This was it, not a lot of information, some of it wasn’t even accurate. But this was the most information I had received from her in my 27 years. The pictures were very interesting. I looked at them over and over again. One was Staff Sgt. Dooley in his Marine Corps dress uniform and the other was him talking on the phone. Both pictures were dated 1966. I kept looking at them and wondering if I looked like him. If I did, I sure couldn’t tell.


Searching the Midwest

Now I had a name, could I really be a great detective and find this guy. Donna told me that she thought Dennis was from Wisconsin. My brother Kelly called the information operator for the state of Wisconsin and received the phone numbers and city names for all the Dennis Dooleys in the state. I started making calls with no luck. After talking to 10 Dennis Dooleys, I was getting nowhere. Next, I called the Des Moines library and they told me they had all the phone numbers in the United States on CD ROM. Off I went, I scanned the CD’s and located 48 Dennis Dooleys. I cross referenced the phone numbers from my previous list from the information operator. There was one number left in Wisconsin to call, so I tried with no luck. Finally, I decided to turn to the Internet for help.


Internet Relay Chat

Getting on the Internet was a big move for me. I heard that there were volumes of information. After searching the World Wide Web, I wasn’t really finding what I was looking for. There is a lot of information, but you have to know what you are looking for and how to find it. Next, I decided to check out the Internet Relay Chat. The Internet Relay Chat (IRC) is a software interface that allows people from all over the world to have conversations real-time. While looking for channels on DALNET (an IRC server), I found an adoption support group that was dedicated to adoption topics. The channel is called Adoption (#Adoption), in which everyone involved in adoption is welcome. I found that this chat room was a great source for information and everyone there was always very helpful. After telling my story one night to the people on-line, I was given the following address to write to:

Freedom of Information and Privacy Act Office (Code MI-3)
Headquarters, US Marine Corps, Room 4327
Washington, DC 20380

Little did I know that this address would forever changed my life!


Freedom of Information

I wrote a letter to the Department of the Navy on May 5th, 1996. The only information that I was able to give them was that my biological father was in the Marine Corps in 1966 and was a Marine recruiter stationed in Rochester, Minnesota. I also told them that I thought Dennis fought in the Vietnam War and was later commissioned as an officer. Within 11 days, I received a response from the Navy in which they told me that they received my request for information and it would be processed as soon as possible. Over the next 8 months, the Navy sent me updates to my original request dated May 16th, June 28th, September 18th, November 19th and January 6th, 1997. I was very impressed with the Department of the Navy and their timely updates to me as to where they were on my request for information.

The package sent to me dated January 6th, 1997, was beyond all my expectations. Enclosed was over 250 pages of releasable information in the Official Military Personnel File of Captain Dooley. It was noted that 24 pages were not released to me because they pertained to the next of kin and could not be released to a member of the public because of an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. The Navy provided the first 2 hours of search time and 100 pages for free. My total fee ended up being $15.75. This was a small price to pay for such valuable information. While reading the cover letter of the military file, I soon discovered that this information was about the late Captain Dennis Dooley.


Official Military Personnel File (OMPF)

The first page in the military file after the cover letter really startled me. I did not expect to see a "Report of Casualty". My biological father passed away of cancer on November 13, 1974, at the Providence Hospital, Anchorage, Alaska. I always hoped that I would find him alive. Little did I know that he passed away 23 years earlier. I was 8 years old at the time and had no idea that I was adopted. After the initial shock, I was relieved to know that there was nothing that I could have done to meet him. After all, I had been searching for 3 years. Over the next several hours, I went through every page of the military file. I learned more about my biological father that afternoon then I had known my entire life. Dennis was a true Marine and a certified hero in the Korean Conflict as well as the Vietnam War.

Dennis Dooley enlisted for three years in the Marine Corps April 27, 1951, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He left high school in Winnebago, Minnesota where he was a 3 year letterman in football and basketball. He had brown hair, brown eyes, weighed 156 pounds and stood 5 foot 8 1/2 inches tall. I immediately started to see similarities. The only difference between Dennis and myself was that I was 5 foot 7 inches. We even had the same blood type. I still had doubts that I was his biological son, even though the pictures that were in the file looked very close to myself.

During Dennis’s first enlistment he was sent to the Korean Conflict. He served in Korea from November 1951 to April 1953. As a Private First Class, he was awarded the Silver Star for his gallantry in action during operations against an armed enemy in Korea on October 21, 1952. The following is from the Silver Star Citation:

"Observing a fellow Marine caught on barbed wire when the patrol withdrew to the base of the hill after it was subjected to intense enemy machine-gun fire, Private First Class Dooley unhesitatingly returned to the entangled man’s position directly in front of a hostile machine gun, pulled him free and continued to expose himself to the heavy fire to assist the Marine to safety. By his courageous initiative and selfless efforts on behalf of another, Private First Class Dooley served to inspire all who observed him and was instrumental in saving the life of his comrade."

Dennis left the Marines in April 1954, and later re-enlisted in November 1956. This is the time that he decided to make the Marines his career. Up until 1966, Dennis had many different positions in the Marines: guard, troop handler, troop leader, tactics instructor, platoon leader and sergeant, recruiter. During this time, he moved up through the ranks and reached the level of Staff Sergeant. In 1966, he became an officer and was promoted to Second Lieutenant. Dennis was sent to Vietnam in November of 1966 and served in combat throughout 1967.

While in Vietnam, Dennis received 2 purple hearts. One was from shrapnel of a hostile grenade to the left knee on February 17, 1967. The other injury came from mortar fire that wounded his right leg and nose on March 26, 1967. Other awards received by Second Lieutenant Dooley were the Bronze Star Medal and another Silver Star Medal. Later as a First Lieutenant, he received the Navy Commendation Medal. After reading the military file, I feel that Dennis was a real hero. I have the most respect for his memory and a lot of pride. I served in the Army Reserves for 8 years, and many of us only wish that we could be like him. I have read how he received his awards and it is quite amazing that he survived. After all that Dennis had been through, it’s surprising the cancer got the best of him.


Knowing Your Medical History

I believe it is very important to know your family medical history so you can combat your own problems or avoid future ones. It doesn’t matter if your adopted or not. Myself, like most Adoptees are concerned about some unknown in their birth family's medical history that would surface later in life.

Dennis died of cancer. It was first in his kidneys, but later on it spread throughout his other organs. I’m glad to know why my biological father passed away. It makes me more aware of what I need to watch out for and to get regular checkups. On my biological mother’s side of the family, cancer is very prevalent. She had a brother die of leukemia, her mother of cancer, and a sister who also had cancer, but beat it. I myself had skin cancer, but caught it in time to have it removed. Dennis himself was a true "Marine" to the end by they way he conceded to cancer. He knew that cancer had beaten him, but he wanted to die with honor. He left behind a family: wife, son(s), parents, brother and a sister.


A Needle Found in a Haystack

While reading the military file, I came across a sheet labeled "Report of Wound/Injury". This report listed the name of Dennis’s parents, brother and wife. I had been using the Internet for some time now, so I decided to do a name and address search on Dennis’s brother and parents. I had found out that Dennis was born in Minnesota, so what better place to begin searching. The Switchboard web site has a national database on names, addresses and phone numbers. Their web site is WWW.SWITCHBOARD.COM and is very useful. The first search was for Dennis’s brother, Don. I located 2 listings, both were in the Minneapolis area. My second search was for any Dooley in Mankato, Minnesota. There was only one and her name was Arva.

I had the phone numbers printed and in my hands. The only problem was that I was very nervous. What if this was the right person. I had been calling people named ‘Dennis Dooley’ for three years without any luck. I dialed the phone number for Donald. A lady answered the phone and I asked her if she was a relative or knew a Dennis Dooley. Sure enough she did, but was very apprehensive. The number I called was Don’s ex-wife and the person I was talking to was his daughter. She gave me Don’s phone number, which happened to match the other one on my list. After a few minutes, I called Don and he talked to me very candidly. I know that I took him by surprise. Of course, no one knew I existed. Don insisted that I call his mother, Arva, the next day. What a surprise, the last number on my list was hers. On Sunday, January 19, 1997, I talked to Arva Dooley, mother of Dennis.



During my conversation with Arva on January 19, 1997, I told her all about myself and my search. Understandably, she was in disbelief. After talking to her, we both agreed that I should send pictures of myself. I Federal Expressed a letter and pictures overnight. The day she received the package, she called me immediately and we talked again. She told me that she had no doubt that I was Dennis’s son. After talking at great length about her son, she wanted to know when we could meet. We planned our first meeting to be on February 8th, 1997.


Mankato, Minnesota

When I went to Mankato, I was very nervous. I did not know what to expect. I met Arva at the door, she was very nice and immediately gave me a hug. I went inside and sat on the couch. Arva, her daughter, Darleen, and son, Don, looked at me like they had seen a ghost. I then knew that I must have really looked like Dennis. I was very startled by the pictures, especially the ones the Arva had framed around the house. It appeared that if Dennis and I were the same age, we could be twin brothers. Darlene had made copies of pictures for me as well as photocopies of newspaper articles, letters and yearbook pictures. We all talked very openly for about 3 hours. From my first impression, they were all very nice, but I was there under totally different circumstances than a normal family get together. I left Mankato with more than I ever imagined. The pictures, articles and letters were invaluable as well as my conversations with Dennis’s family. I now felt as if I knew my biological father and what type of person he was.


A New Family

Now that my search for my biological father is complete. Who would believe that his family would want anything to do with me. I have been very surprised at how welcoming they have been. Grandma Arva has been wonderful. She really wants me to know who my biological father was, even though she is troubled about how I was conceived. Who would ever believe that the first Dooley that I talked to back on January 18, 1997 was Debbie, my cousin, and she lived in the same city! It has been interesting getting to know my newly found brother, Tom. We both grew up without our biological father and the path that our lives have taken are very different. It’s overwhelming to know that these people look at me as a new part of their family and not as a stranger as you would expect.


A Final Note

In my opinion, children should be told that they are adopted as soon as they can understand. Finding out I was adopted as a teenager left me with devastating feelings of rejection. I had many questions. Why did my birth mother give me up? Who was my birth father? Why was I adopted by my grandparents? If my sister was my birth mother, why had I never met her?

I started my search for Dennis out of my own curiosity and the fact that I knew very little about my own genetic past. Like many other people, I wanted to find out what he looked like, what kind of personality did he have and if I had any siblings. I know quite a bit more about my genetics’ than I could have ever believed possible. Knowing where you came from is better than not knowing at all! I’m glad my search didn’t disappoint me.

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