Brian Williams admitted Wednesday he was never on a helicopter that was forced down by RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fire during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.
“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said in an interview with U.S. military news site Stars and Stripes. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”
Williams has told the story of how he and his news crew were shot down by opposition fire for years, both in books and written pieces for high-profile publications. The latest example came Friday during NBC’s coverage of a public tribute to a retired command sergeant major at a New York Rangers hockey game.
“The story actually started with a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an RPG,” Williams said on the broadcast. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”
Williams’ change of story came after crew members of the helicopter that actually was forced down told Stars and Stripes that Williams was nowhere near their helicopter and was in a separate one about an hour behind them that was not affected by RPG fire.
That Chinook took no fire and landed later beside the damaged helicopter due to an impending sandstorm from the Iraqi desert, according to Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, who was the flight engineer on the aircraft that carried the journalists.
“No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft,” the helicopter pilot admitted Wednesday.
Williams has since apologized to the crew members on the “NBC Nightly News” Facebook page.
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.
NBC News did not immediaitely repsond to TheWrap’s request for comment.