PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ After more than 30 years of claiming to be a decorated Air Force fighter pilot, the publisher of this city's two daily newspapers has admitted that his military career was a lie and has resigned.

In a statement released Thursday, Darrow Tully said, ''I have never been in the Air Force or any branch of the Armed Services. I regret this deception deeply...I am glad this regrettable situation has finally surfaced and I can put it behind me.''

Tully, 53, said in a later statement that he hoped the employees of Phoenix Newspapers Inc.,, which he has headed since 1978, could ''find it in your hearts to forgive me.''

Tully said he resigned ''in the interest of preserving the integrity of the Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette.''

The resignation came shortly after Maricopa County Attorney Tom Collins held a news conference and said he had checked with the Air Force, but could find no record of service by Tully.

Collins also blamed Tully for an ''orchestrated smear campaign'' that he claimed PNI had run against him in articles related to his travel expenses and other matters.

Collins showed reporters a resume in which Tully claimed to have served in Korea and Vietnam, retired as a lieutenant colonel, and received a number of awards including the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Tully also had been seen wearing a military uniform at parties by friends and business associates and had told stories about being injured when he was shot down in Korea.

In May 1984, Tully told the American Fighter Aces Association meeting in Phoenix that military personnel should avoid controversy, and he said: ''I found this difficult in Korea and damn near impossible in Vietnam.''

PNI President Eugene S. Pulliam declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press at his Indianapolis office.

In stories published today, the Arizona Republic said it had been conducting an investigation of its own into Tully's background before the announcement was made.

The Republic said there were apparent discrepancies in Tully's educational background as well.

''Rumors had been circulating for several weeks that Tully's claims about his military background were either false or exaggerated,'' the newspaper said.

The paper reported that City Editor Richard Robertson requested information about Tully from the National Military Personnel Records Center on Dec. 2. He was awaiting the information when the announcement was made Thursday, the paper said.

Tully's personnel record indicated he received an associate degree in engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., but university records showed Tully dropped out in November 1950 before graduating, Joseph Bennett, a school spokesman, told the Republic.

Republic Managing Editor Alan Moyer issued a statement saying, ''Duke's (Tully) revelation about not being in the military was his own problem, and had nothing to do with our integrity as editors in covering the news.''