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

Times Staff Writer

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

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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

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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“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.

Tully’s ethics are not the only ones under fire.

ACLU’s Criticism

The man who unmasked him, Maricopa County Atty. Tom Collins, was criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union for using government funds to conduct a personal attack. Collins says that he began the investigation of Tully in preparation for filing a libel suit.

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Tully’s top corporate public relations executive, William Shover, also received sharp public reproach after it was revealed that he had talked Tully out of voluntarily disclosing his past last fall.

The disclosures have stunned Arizona not only because of the elaborateness of the charade, but because the masquerader was a highly visible, controversial, sometimes messianic figure who was at the peak of his considerable powers.

Since coming to Phoenix in 1978, Tully had directed significant technical and editorial expansion of the Republic and Gazette, presided over the newspapers’ generally conservative editorial voices, and had also become a major force in expanding Phoenix’s cultural community. His efforts included a campaign to persuade all corporations to donate a percentage of their profits to the arts.

‘Pushy, Forward, Brash’

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He moved with an unusually forceful combination of zest, decisiveness and love of center stage that was regarded as dynamic leadership by those who admired him and bullying arrogance by those who lost political or civic battles.

“He’s pushy, forward, brash, he gets things done and as a result he makes a lot of enemies,” said Bob Early, a former Republic managing editor who resigned from the paper at Tully’s request several years ago. “He’s the kind of guy you put on the opera board and suddenly he’s raising money and making things move . He was never ‘honorary’ anything.”

“He had broken kneecaps all over this town,” said Jana Bommersbach, who left the Republic as a reporter and is now associate editor of New Times, a Phoenix weekly that has often taken shots at the city’s two dailies for what New Times considers lethargic news coverage and an overly conservative philosophy.

Bragging Remembered

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Associates described Tully as equally literate in discussing publishing, books, flying and ballet. They remember his bragging that “I tell Arizona what to think,” asking to call plays for the city’s pro football team from the owner’s stadium booth, boasting when the conversation turned to a rival that “as an old fighter pilot, I’ll bomb that guy out of the saddle.”

It was such a dazzling mesh of intellect and macho that when ex-fighter pilot Denny thinks about how he was suckered, his reaction is not anger but sorrow.

“Mad? Hell no. I was kinda proud to have him as a member of the fraternity,” he said.

The fraternity of those who have survived aerial combat is one of the most pervasive bonds in male society, and Darrow Tully was in its grasp from a very early age.

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Older Brother Killed

He had always loved aviation and had flown private planes from the time he was 17, Tully said in brief telephone interviews with his newspapers’ reporters the day after his resignation, the only public comments he has made to explain his lies.

An older brother, Grant, was a fighter pilot who was killed in a World War II collision, he said.

“I always related to him. It was a kind of hero worship” that made him want to duplicate his brother’s feats, he said.

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Tully said his impostoring began around the age of 20, after he had joined the Civil Air Patrol in West Virginia.

“It started with my . . . wearing Civil Air Patrol uniforms. One thing led to another, and I was trying to get in and fly some military airplanes.

‘Picked Up Steam’

“I started to tell a fib, and one fib led to another . . . I helped it grow. Once it got going, it just picked up steam and I fed it.

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“I can’t reconstruct 30 years ago . . . it’s part of the whole picture of a young man trying to come up the line. It helps, I guess, to have something in your file other than the fact you sold classified advertising.”

By 1955, when he was named to a mangement position at the Duluth, Minn., News Tribune, he claimed to have a commission as a second lieutenant in the Air Force, according to that paper’s library clippings. In 1966, when he reached the Gary, Ind., Post Tribune as general manager, he said he was a major in the Air Force Reserve. He made a similar claim at the Wichita, Kan., Eagle in 1973.

While an executive in Gary, Tully enjoyed flying the jet owned by the newspaper’s parent corporation, and occasionally mentioned his air crash in Korea, but never wore a uniform or made claims of being heavily decorated, said the paper’s managing editor, Terry O’Rourke.

‘Very Low-Key’

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“He was very low-key on that here,” O’Rourke said.

In Phoenix, however, the make-believe portion of Tully’s life grew more dominant. His corporate biography detailed his military decorations, and said Tully had joined the Air Force in 1949, crashed in Korea in 1952, rejoined the service on reserve status in 1955 and was recalled to active duty during the Vietnam War during an unspecified year, flying more than 100 missions and retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

In his interviews with Republic and Gazette reporters, Tully contended that neither his first wife, who died in 1974, nor his second, who divorced him in May, knew that his stories of military heroics were false. He said his son and daughter, both born after the Korean War, also believed the stories.

A family friend confirmed that Tully’s estranged wife, Pat, “was just astonished” by the revelations.

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Friends said they were uncertain how Tully convinced his son and daughter, who, they said, were born before the Vietnam War began, that he had flown in Vietnam during the years when the family was living in Minnesota and Indiana. They speculated that he might have been away from home on a business trip and later lied about its length to convince the children that he was actually in Vietnam. The son, Mac, a Kansas City newspaper advertising employee, refused to comment.

Groping Inconclusively

According to executives who worked with him in St. Paul, Minn., and Gary, Tully took no extended absences from his jobs between 1962 and 1973 and made only sketchy reference to having “done his (Air Force Reserve) time in Vietnam,” O’Rourke said.

Those close to Tully are groping inconclusively for reasons why he perpetuated and expanded his lies.

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Republic columnist Pat Murphy suggested ego. “It was obvious to everybody that Duke needed approval, attention, adulation. He preferred going places where he was the center of the attention.”

The family friend and public relations executive, Hardaway, who said she had spent considerable time with the publisher in the last year, noted that Tully had lost several family members to war or illnesses, including his first wife, and suggested that “he reacted by trying to shore himself against more tragedy by making himself as strong a person as he could.”

She and several other friends said Tully might have been carried away by his natural romantic tendency to view life in idealized terms. “This was part of a larger piece of American romanticism. Romantics exaggerate everything,” Hardaway said.

“What’s so bizarre about this,” said ex-Managing Editor Early, “is that Tully is smart and Tully is capable and a guy like that has to know he’s gonna get caught, and he knows he’s making a lot of enemies, and he knows his enemies are gonna check. And to carry on that charade with all that in your mind is real tragic.”

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Those very pressures came to a head last spring in the wake of Tully’s divorce and appeared to set off the chain of events that exposed him.

‘Changed Tremendously’

The divorce left Tully depressed and wore away some of his arrogance, friends said. “He changed tremendously. It made him a nicer person,” one of them said.

“It was breaking me down,” Tully said in his brief comments to Republic and Gazette reporters.

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Around the time of the divorce, Tully traveled to Washington with a free-lance writer and, in a meeting with military and congressional personnel, uncharacteristically brushed aside the suggestion that he had been a war hero, the writer said.

After the trip, the writer said he idly related the remark to County Atty. Collins. Several months later, after Tully’s newspapers reported Collins’ alleged misuse of expense money, the writer said Collins telephoned him and asked him to repeat the story.

Collins had been opposed editorially by the Republic and Gazette when he first ran for county attorney in 1980 and had been angered on several occasions by stories critical of him. An editorial published in April complained that Collins was wasting his time prosecuting video store owners for selling X-rated movies while ignoring the enforcement of child-support laws.

Refuses Interviews

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Collins refused several requests by The Times to be interviewed.

By the fall, events were heading down three separate paths toward the eventual revelations: Collins was conducting his investigation of Tully’s background. Reporters and editors at the Republic and Gazette, having heard rumors that Tully’s stories were lies, had begun requesting records from the Department of Defense. And Tully himself was hand-writing a public confession on a yellow legal pad.

When Tully showed his confession to public relations executive Shover and said he planned to go public, Shover argued against it, saying that since no laws had been broken or anyone taken advantage of, Tully did not need to do anything more than to cease telling the lie. Tully’s minister gave him similar advice, the publisher said, and he agreed.

A month later, Tully revised his official biography, removing all references to military service.

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Two months after that, Collins dropped his bombshell.

Cracks in Facade

In hindsight, several of those fooled by Tully said they saw cracks in his facade.

First there was age. Tully would have been only 17 when he began flying in the Air Force, according to his company biography. “I feel silly,” said Max Jennings, executive editor of the Mesa Tribune. “I pride myself as being a cynical journalistic type who’d pick up on that.”

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Ex-POW McCain said he realizes now that when he talked to Tully, the publisher only talked about Korea, the war McCain wasn’t in. He, fighter pilot Denny and other fliers said their conversations with Tully tended to be generalized and held in social situations, rather than “one-on-one over a beer, where you’d start talking about what unit a guy was in and so on. And another thing is, usually something has to spark that. You don’t just go up and start telling war stories.”

“Everyone in this business plays who-knows-who,” said Barrett Tillman, secretary of American Fighter Aces Assn., which has its national headquarters in Mesa and honored Tully as its guest speaker at a 1984 banquet.

“I’m amazed that (specific conversation) never happened with him,” Tillman said. “But I do remember thinking during his address that it was peculiar that he wasn’t talking about aviation at all. He talked about crime.”

Added columnist Murphy, “Ask yourself: Of all the legitimate heroes you know, how many talk about the war?”

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Ultimately, however, the problem was that Duke Tully fit the stereotype too well. Not only was he genuinely in love with aviation, particularly the pleasures of piloting his own plane, but he also “had studied and knew all about these fighter planes and wars and war battles and had developed a pretty good story,” McCain said. Besides, “you get a guy in uniform with medals and I don’t say ‘Let me see your citations and service record.’ ”

In resigning, Tully acknowledged that “I am finished in the newspaper business, period.” Several friends said privately they are concerned that he may not recover emotionally from his humiliation.

“I have serious doubts,” one said. “There’s no medicine for what happened. There’s no cure. I’m just sickened by the whole thing. I just feel terrible for him, as if a death had occurred.”


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