In the late 1940s, Douglas Stringfellow spun a tale of World War II derring-do, including stories of escapades as an agent behind German lines.
Stringfellow, it seemed, was a hero. While working as a radio announcer in Utah, he told of being badly wounded in France in November 1944 by a land mine left behind by the retreating Germans. He wove his injuries into accounts of working for the forerunner of the CIA, including the alleged capture of German physicist Otto Hahn and other scientists.He parlayed his war stories into the chairmanship of the Utah Young Republican League in 1947. Patriotic groups gave him the Freedom Foundation Award and Junior Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service award in 1950. The following year he placed second in the American Legion's Operation Comeback National Contest and the Eagle's Lodge Civil Service Award.
Attracted by his apparent pluck and bravery, Utah Republicans tapped Stringfellow in 1952 to run for the First District House seat vacated by Democrat Walt Granger. (Granger contested for a Senate seat against Republican Wallace Bennett.) In the 1952 election, Dwight Eisenhower easily defeated Adlai Stevenson and carried Stringfellow into office on his coattails. He was to be a member of the last Republican-controlled House to this day.
A crippled Stringfellow was more visible than a typical House freshman because of his continuing stories of his wartime work with the Office of Strategic Services. He was easily re-nominated by his party in 1954 and was featured by NBC on an episode of "This is Your Life" that summer.
Unfortunately for Stringfellow, an Army Times reporter saw the TV show and thought the story was too good to be true. In a time when an Army 201 personnel file was public information, the reporter found the truth: though wounded, Stringfellow had never seen actual combat and was in reality a private first class in occupied France for only a few weeks - and no hero.
For a week he insisted that secret CIA files would prove his tale, but the state's senior Republican, Sen. Arthur V. Watkins, called him in and made it plain that he would have to resign. Finally, on October 15th, just 18 days before the election, he confessed to the hoax. He withdrew from the campaign three days later.
Utah Republicans were livid as they imagined Democrat Granger winning back the seat. Gleeful Democrats chortled, and State Chairman Milton Weilenmann said he was willing to forgive Stringfellow's mistake.
GOP Chairman Oral Wilkinson, with Watkins' help, turned to Dr. Henry Aldous Dixon, president of Utah State University, to replace Stringfellow on the ballot.
Dixon, a lovable little white-haired man, won, defeating Granger. He went on to serve three terms in Washington.
Stringfellow, disgraced, worked later as a newscaster with Mutual, the Intermountain Network, and KALL Radio. He retired in 1966 and died October 19th of that year in Long Beach, Calif.
"I fell into a trap laid by my own glib tongue," Stringfellow said after his trail of lies was exposed. It could be an epitaph for many a politician.