NBC News’ Brian Williams was not, as he has previously claimed, aboard a U.S. Air Force helicopter that was hit by two rockets and grounded during the 2003 Iraq invasion.
In what was surely a moment of vindication for those who were actually aboard the grounded aircraft, the Nightly News anchor admitted Wednesday that the harrowing story he and NBC had been perpetuating since 2003 was false.
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams told the military publication Stars and Stripes, Wednesday. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
The confession came at a New York Rangers game last week, after Williams reiterated his skewed version of events. The occasion was a tribute to retired Command Sgt. Major Tim Terpak, who’d provided security for the grounded helicopters Williams claimed to have been aboard.
In a comment on the Facebook page of "NBC Nightly News," under the video of Williams’ coverage of the tribute, Flight Engineer Lance Reynolds wrote “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.”
Reynolds told Stars and Stripes, “It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I’ve know how lucky I was to survive it. It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”
Williams responded to Reynolds’ comment and apologized.
“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 covered the Rangers' tribute in a segment of the Nightly News.