NEW YORK -- "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams said Wednesday that he had not been aboard a helicopter that was struck and forced down in Iraq in 2003, as he has previously claimed.
Williams recanted his original story to Star and Stripes, telling the military paper that he doesn't know "what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
As Stars and Stripes noted, NBC has repeated Williams' initial account of the incident for years. Most recently, in a Friday "Nightly News" segment featuring Command Sgt. Major Tim Terpack, Williams described being aboard a helicopter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced down at the beginning of the Iraq War. Williams said that his NBC team was then "rescued, surrounded and kept alive" by a platoon led by Terpack. The newscast showed footage of Williams accompanying Terpack to a New York Rangers hockey game, where the arena announcer repeated Williams' account of events.
But crew members who were present at the time told Stars and Stripes that Williams was not on the aircraft that was hit, but instead flew in on another helicopter roughly an hour later. Flight engineer Lance Reynolds said being hit "felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”
Reynolds also disputed Williams' story in a comment posted Saturday on a Facebook video of the Nightly News segment.
"Sorry dude, I don't remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened. Then I remember you guys taking back off in a different flight of Chinooks from another unit and heading to Kuwait to report your "war story" to the Nightly News. The whole time we were still stuck in Iraq trying to repair the aircraft and pulling our own Security."
Mike O’Keeffe, the door gunner on the damaged helicopter, commented on the same post that Williams was "a liar."
On Wednesday, Williams responded to several crew members at length on Facebook, writing that "nobody's trying to steal anyone's valor" and that he remains "a civilian journalist covering the stories of those who volunteered for duty." His full post is below:
"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."
Williams also responded to the controversy on "Nightly News" Wednesday evening, admitting that he had "made a mistake."
An NBC News spokeswoman had no additional comment.