NBC News anchor Brian Williams is in damage control mode after he was outed for falsely claiming to have been in a helicopter that was shot down in the Iraq War.
He’s been telling the story for years but he got tripped up after telling it one more time — while relaying the story about a soldier being honored at a New York Rangers game last week.
Most everything having to do with Williams and NBC in that story is wrong.
He wasn’t in the helicopter. He wasn’t shot out of the sky. He was in another helicopter that had to land in a sand storm, and didn’t show up at the scene of the helicopter that was brought down until an hour later.
Stars and Stripes reports this evening…
One of the helicopters was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades — one did not detonate but passed through the airframe and rotor blades — as well as small arms fire.
“It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I’ve know how lucky I was to survive it,” said Lance Reynolds, who was the flight engineer. “It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”
Reynolds said Williams and the NBC cameramen arrived in a helicopter 30 to 60 minutes after his damaged Chinook made a rolling landing at an Iraqi airfield and skidded off the runway into the desert.
He said Williams approached and took photos of the damage but Reynolds brushed them off because the crew was assessing damage and he was worried his wife, who was alone in Germany, might see the news report.
“I wanted to tell her myself everything was all right before she got news of this happening,” Reynolds said.
The NBC crew stayed only for about 10 minutes and then went to see the Army armored units that had been guarding the nearby Forward Operating Base Rams, and came out to provide a security perimeter around the aircraft. Tim Terpak, the command sergeant major who accompanied Williams to the Rangers game, was among those soldiers and the two struck up a friendship.
Miller, Reynolds and Mike O’Keeffe, who was a door gunner on the damaged Chinook, said they all recall NBC reporting that Williams was aboard the aircraft that was attacked, despite it being false. The NBC online archive shows the network broadcast a news story on March 26, 2003, with the headline “Target Iraq: Helicopter NBC’s Brian Williams Was Riding In Comes Under Fire.
Williams says he simply misremembered it.
Here’s his apology:
“To Joseph, Lance, Jonathan, Pate, Michael and all those who have posted: You are absolutely right and I was wrong.
In fact, I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy. I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp.
Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize.
I certainly remember the armored mech platoon, meeting Capt. Eric Nye and of course Tim Terpak. Shortly after they arrived, so did the Orange Crush sandstorm, making virtually all outdoor functions impossible. I honestly don’t remember which of the three choppers Gen. Downing and I slept in, but we spent two nights on the stowable web bench seats in one of the three birds.
Later in the invasion when Gen. Downing and I reached Baghdad, I remember searching the parade grounds for Tim’s Bradley to no avail. My attempt to pay tribute to CSM Terpak was to honor his 23+ years in service to our nation, and it had been 12 years since I saw him.
The ultimate irony is: In writing up the synopsis of the 2 nights and 3 days I spent with him in the desert, I managed to switch aircraft. Nobody’s trying to steal anyone’s valor. Quite the contrary: I was and remain a civilian journalist covering the stories of those who volunteered for duty. This was simply an attempt to thank Tim, our military and Veterans everywhere — those who have served while I did not.