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Arizona Publisher Embellished His Story for 30 Years : How a Lie About War Record Unraveled

January 11, 1986|BOB BAKER | Times Staff Writer

PHOENIX — Few people here dealt long with Darrow (Duke) Tully without being reminded, subtly or otherwise, that at the essence of this self-assured, charismatic, powerful newspaper executive was the take-charge soul of a fighter pilot.

The master bathroom of his home was filled with pictures, medals and plaques celebrating the Duke's experiences in Korea and Vietnam. He wore the dress uniform of an Air Force lieutenant colonel at military social functions. His conversation was laced with combat metaphors, a reminder of scores of missions and a plane crash. At the two newspapers he ran, he talked about the chain of command and the span of control and posted military-style tables of organization.

"He was like an officer in life," said Francine Hardaway, a Phoenix public relations firm owner and a friend of Tully.

A Uniform of Deceit

But the businessmen and politicians who run this sprawling Southwest metropolis are shaking their heads and reappraising their instincts these days, for Tully, the publisher of Arizona's two largest dailies and a man regarded as one of the state's most influential figures, had been living a lie.

He had never been a fighter pilot. He had never been in the Korean War. Or the Vietnam War. He had never been awarded the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters or the Distinguished Flying Cross. In fact, he had never been in the military at all.

What he had done--out of motives variously attributed to deep-rooted insecurities, a romantic's penchant for exaggeration or youthful hero-worship of an older brother--was to stitch together a uniform of deceit over more than 30 years.

Desperate Desire to Fly

It began in Charleston, W. Va., in the early 1950s, when the young $38-a-week classified advertising salesman named after the famed lawyer, Clarence Darrow, started to lie about his military affiliation out of what he characterized as a desperate desire to fly military planes.

The lie continued in Minnesota, Indiana, Kansas and San Francisco, where Tully advanced from job to job, acquiring a reputation as an efficient newspaper manager and embellishing his service record each time he filled out a new corporate biography.

And it ended on Dec. 26, after rumors had been swirling for months, fed by Tully's growing ambivalence about keeping his secret. An Arizona county prosecutor, angered by what he considered attacks on him by Tully's reporters, retaliated by calling a press conference to announce that the publisher was a fraud and did "not deserve his position as a community leader."

Within hours Tully, 53, admitted his sins, issued a public apology and resigned as publisher of the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette, papers that have a combined circulation of 400,000. His office, in the bitter gallows humor of his reporters, became the tomb of the unknown soldier.

Played It to the Hilt

By last week Tully had checked into and then out of a psychiatric hospital, leaving his many friends and enemies to speculate why an otherwise highly intelligent, talented man had been snared in a mushrooming Walter Mitty fantasy--and how he was able to fool everyone, including his ex-wife of 10 years and his two children.

One thing they all agreed on: the Duke had played it to the hilt.

"I remember him telling me, emotionally, about how he was shot down in his P-51 in Korea. He told me his back was broken, people dragging him out of the wreckage, him waking up in a body cast. It was quite a stirring story," said Rep. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a Vietnam War-era Navy pilot who spent six years in a Vietnamese prisoner of war camp and grew so close to Tully that he made the publisher the godfather of his newborn daughter in 1984.

(Arizona political observers said the likelihood that Tully's papers will endorse McCain in this year's race for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Barry Goldwater influenced a decision by Arizona's Democratic governor, Bruce Babbitt, to stay out of the Senate race.)

'Veterans Very Disgusted'

"I bumped into Duke at a club last spring and he told me, 'I've joined you,' " said Bob Denny, an Arizona state legislator who flew Air Force fighter planes in Vietnam and retired as a lieutenant colonel. "I asked him what he meant and he told me he'd retired from the Air Force Reserve in the same rank as me because he'd gotten passed over for colonel."

Arizona's large military community took Tully to its bosom. He was given uniforms as gifts. He was honored by the 4,000-member Arizona Air Force Assn. and made an honorary member by a group of World War I pilots from Arizona and the Merrill's Marauders Assn., a legendary Army unit that fought in World War II.

"The veterans here are very disgusted with Duke Tully," said Neal S. Sundeen, judge advocate of the American Legion's Arizona organization. "He was portraying himself as a military hero when he was a phony." Among those betrayed was a veteran who arranged to transport Tully from Phoenix to tour a carrier in the Pacific, Sundeen said.

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