Dori: WWII combat vet turns 97, recalls dinner with teenage Dolly Parton

Feb 23, 2022, 6:24 PM | Updated: Feb 28, 2022, 2:03 pm

Dolly Parton...

Phil (middle) with a young Dolly Parton. (Courtesy photo)

(Courtesy photo)

To Dori Monson Show listeners, popular guest and World War II Army combat veteran Phil Sulman is best known for his longevity and life of adventure.

The Bellevue man is a 1943 graduate of Seattle’s Garfield High School who survived 195 consecutive days of Nazi Germany shelling, helped liberate a concentration camp, and pitched post-war coins against Frank Sinatra to see who paid for their weekly coffee.

For his 97th birthday, “everybody-knows-him-as-Phil” shared yet another never-before-revealed chapter from his intrepid life. This one involves a then-teenage country singer who just was just breaking into the music business: Dolly Parton.

“You scamp!” Dori taunted the nonagenarian. “You told me about how you had weekly breakfasts with Frank Sinatra, but you never told me about this before.”

Bravery, tears, and flipping coins with Frank Sinatra: Reflections of a WWII veteran

“Dolly was an 18-year-old youngster. A cute gal. Just cute. She doesn’t look any different today than she did then,” Phil thoughtfully revealed.

How did they meet?

Phil recalls working for ABC Records in Chicago, where he was assigned to a “little town near the Ohio border – Poplar Bluff, Missouri.”

“It was a small town where you could drive right through it and not know it,” he said.

Phil’s job was to set up a record department in the town’s likely one-and-only store. The highlight? Hosting Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, who were singing at a rodeo or outdoor concert at the time. They were invited to the department store to sign album covers – which they accepted. Dolly Parton was just breaking into the music business at the time.

“During the day, I got to talk to her several times,” Phil recalls. “If I remember right, we all went out to dinner. She talks today just like she did then, … 18 years old.”

Indeed, in the late 1960s, Dolly was touring with Wagoner – a few years before her 1973 hit “Jolene” skyrocketed her to singles fame. Her iconic music, acting, business, and Dollywood Theme Park career have soared ever since.

Now, Phil’s once-dinner date is launching her first novel. Dolly Parton’s book, “Run Rose Run,” with bestselling author James Patterson, has a local promotional event through Shoreline Area News.

The book coincides with the release of her new album, also titled “Run Rose Run.”

To wrap up Phil’s 97th birthday interview, Dori compared him to a real-life movie character: “You fought the Nazis, you had breakfast every week with Frank Sinatra, and you had dinner with Dolly Parton. You’re like Forrest Gump.”

“She wouldn’t know me any more than Frank Sinatra would if he was alive,” Sulman replied. “… I’m sure glad I can remember all those things, Dori.”

Listen to Dori’s entire 97th birthday interview with Phil Sulman here:

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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