Elder Paul H. Dunn, one of the most popular speakers and authors in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made up many of the stories about baseball and battle he told as personal experiences, a newspaper reported Saturday.
For example, Dunn's best friend did not die in his arms in World War II, nor did the longtime member of the church's hierarchy ever play major-league baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals, The Arizona Republic said.Dunn, 66, acknowledged those stories and others were untrue but defended fabrications as necessary to illustrate his theological and moral points.
He compared his stories to the parables told by Jesus but conceded Jesus' parables weren't about himself.
As an LDS general authority since 1964, Dunn was among the 90 men who govern the 7.5 million-member church.
But in October 1989, he was placed on emeritus status for health reasons. The action came weeks after the church leadership investigated allegations by free-lance writer Lynn Packer that Dunn's war and sports stories were fabricated.
Church spokesman Don LeFevre, in a written statement to The Republic and The Associated Press, reiterated Dunn was retired because of "age and health."
"We are unable to fully or finally verify either the accounts under challenge or the allegations about those accounts," LeFevre wrote, adding that the church "does not condone misrepresentations."
The newspaper alleges the church pressured Packer, who is a member of the church, not to publish his findings, which were provided to The Republic last fall after Packer's teaching contract at Brigham Young University was terminated for pursuing the story.
Despite Dunn's retirement, his grandfatherly demeanor and down-home, self-deprecating storytelling style continue to make him a popular public speaker and the most prolific author among current and former church leaders.
He receives royalties from 23 inspirational cassette tapes and 28 books, many of which contain his exaggerated war and baseball stories.
Relying partly on his reputation as a former professional athlete, Dunn also is promoting his new business, Sports-Values Training Centers, which brings professional athletes and teenage boys together for inspirational workshops.
Dunn, who has a doctorate in education, said he doesn't consider it deceitful to exaggerate or alter facts. He said his technique is to "combine" elements of several true stories to create a single story that will better convey a message and capture an audience's interest.
In the case of his false claim to have played for the St. Louis Cardinals, he said youngsters can relate better to a major-league team than to the farm teams for which he briefly played.
"The combining of stories seems justifiable in terms of illustrating a point. My motives are pure and innocent," Dunn told The Republic during an interview attended by his attorney and a friend.
"I haven't purposely tried to embellish or rewrite history. I've tried to illustrate points that would create interest," Dunn said. "Combining war stories is simply putting history in little finer packages."
Dunn said he cooperated with the church's investigation but was not advised of its conclusions. He denied it was connected to his retirement, which he insisted was for poor health that has since improved.
At the same time, however, the university terminated Packer's teaching contract, in part because he wanted to publish a story about his findings.
Gordon Whiting, then chairman of the BYU communications department, had warned Packer in a memo that "publication of the Paul Dunn article will damage the church, will damage the university, will damage the department and will damage you."
Whiting acknowledged the decision not to renew Packer's contract for the 1990-91 school year came, in part, because Packer was violating church and university policies that prohibit public criticism of church leaders, even if the criticism is true.
One of Dunn's most dramatic embellished stories, told on a tape titled "War Experiences," is about the combat death of his closest wartime buddy, Harold Lester Brown.
Dunn, who was a private in an anti-tank platoon, vividly described how he and Brown were pinned down for the night in separate foxholes on Okinawa.
"Unfortunately, one of the (mortar) shells caught a direct hit on the foxhole of my friend . . . and I could hear him call out when that shell first hit," Dunn recounted. He said he listened all night to Brown's moans, while fighting off "two or three banzai attacks and artillery attacks."
"How in the world he lived that night I don't know. I counted, after his death, 67 shrapnel wounds, some large enough where you could put your whole hand in," Dunn said.
Brown's last words, as recounted by Dunn, were:
"`I know this is the end. . . .If you ever have an opportunity . . . to talk to the young people of America, will you tell them for me that it's a privilege to lay down my life for them?'
"And with that testimony on his lips, he died!"
The problem with the story, Packer discovered, is that Brown didn't die on Okinawa. Indeed, Brown said from his home in Odessa, Mo., that he was perplexed by Dunn's story.
"Maybe he got me mixed up with someone else," Brown speculated, although he noted that he and Dunn have stayed in contact since the war, even visiting occasionally and exchanging Christmas cards. He said Dunn never has mentioned the story.
Dunn said he based the story loosely on the death of another soldier, Phillip Cocroft, who was mortally wounded in a mortar attack that Dunn said he witnessed, although Cocroft didn't survive the night or die in his arms.
Military records confirm Cocroft died on Okinawa on May 15, 1945.
"I came home many months later, talking to kids in a teaching situation," Dunn said. "All I did was take Harold Brown's relationship (with me) and combine it with Cocroft's dying."
Once he had told the fabricated version, Dunn said, he couldn't change it.
"Rather than go back and change something where it would be deceitful, I just kept it the same," he said.
Other war stories Dunn acknowledges exaggerating include ones in which he:
- Was the sole survivor among 11 infantrymen in a 100-yard race against death, during which one burst of machine-gun fire ripped his right boot off, another tore off his ammunition and canteen belt and yet another split his helmet in half, all without wounding him.
- Kept a Japanese prisoner from being butchered by GIs bent on revenge for the torture-slayings of American soldiers.
- Wrestled a dynamite pack off a child kamikaze infiltrator, saving himself and the child.
- Miraculously survived being run over by an enemy tank, while others were crushed.
- Was one of only six in his 1,000-man combat group who survived, and was the only one of the six who wasn't wounded.
He has since acknowledged that only 30 soldiers in his unit died during the entire war, but said the exaggeration is unimportant.
"The thing I'm trying to say is that there was a power higher than my own . . . a wonderful spiritual force out there," he said.
Editor's note: The foregoing story is based upon allegations made by Richard R. Robertson in an article published on Saturday, Feb. 16, 1991, in the Arizona Republic.
First Presidency statement
The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the following statement Friday:
Comment on this story
"In consideration of factors of age and health, Elder Paul H. Dunn was given emeritus status on Sept. 30, 1989, along with seven other General Authorties.
"We have had no way of fully or finally verifying the accuracy of inaccuracy of the current allegtations or accounts that are now under challenge. We are naturally concerned about the well-being of Elder Dunn and his family during his stressful time.
"We appreciate the service Elder Dunn has given and the sacrifices he and his family have made, often at the cost of their own comfort and health."