NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams told his tall tale of being shot down in a helicopter during the Iraq War in vivid detail on David Letterman’s show in 2013.
The video was brought to light after Williams retracted a story he has told many times over the years of a March 24, 2003 mission in which he claimed that a Chinook helicopter he was riding in was downed by enemy fire. Soldiers present during the incident called Williams’ out on Facebook for fabricating the incident.
During an interview with Letterman near the 10 year anniversary of the attack, Williams said:
“We were in some helicopters. What we didn’t know was we were north of the invasion. We were the northern-most Americans in Iraq. We were going to drop some bridge portions across the Euphrates so the Third Infantry could cross on them. Two of our four helicopters were hit by ground fire, including the one I was in. RPG and AK-47.”
Asked what the helicopter’s altitude was when it was hit, Williams said, “We were only at a hundred feet doing a hundred forward knots because we had these massive pieces of bridge beneath us on slings.”
Letterman pressed for more detail about what happened once the Chinook was hit.
“We figured out how to land safely,” said Williams. “And we did. We landed very quickly — and hard. And we put down, and we were stuck. Four birds in the middle of the desert, and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.”
Williams’ story began to unravel on Friday.
Williams aired a segment on “NBC Nightly News” about an evening he recently spent at a New York Rangers hockey game with Tim Terpak, a now-retired Army Sgt. Maj. who was part of the unit that came to the aid of Williams and the others clustered in the desert after the Chinook was grounded.
Williams’ claim that he was on board the downed aircraft was rehashed during the tribute.
When the segment was published on Facebook, Lance Reynolds, the flight engineer on the wounded Chinook, wrote to Williams, “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft.”
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, the flight engineer on board the unscathed helicopter Williams actually rode in, posted on Facebook thanking Reynolds for calling out Williams.
Miller wrote, adding further detail to his exchange with Williams after the helicopters landed that day in Iraq:
“I’ve been calling him out on this for a long time with no response. He was actually on my aircraft and we came in behind you about 30-45 minutes later. He is a total POS! He had the audacity to tell me the whole thing was like “Saving Private Ryan” and that the whole army would be out looking for him. I called him an idiot in front of his camera crew and he didn’t come back to my bird for next 3 days!”
TheDC reached out to Miller to find out more about Williams’ remarks about “Saving Private Ryan” — a World War II movie directed by Steven Spielberg — but he did not immediately respond.
There was some speculation online that Williams may have been dishonest during his apology when he claimed that he and other soldiers remained in the desert for several days after the Chinook was brought down.
That belief seems to stem from Reynolds’ Facebook comment in which he claimed that shortly after the helicopters were grounded Williams and his crew left in “a different flight of Chinooks from another unit” and flew to Kuwait to report their story.
Miller seemed to offer a correction to that claim, responding to Reynolds: “The other unit was B Co 159th Avn. We were with you for 4 days I believe before we got the weather to get out of there.”
In his apology for the incident, Williams blamed the “fog of memory” that he claimed had developed over the 12 years since the incident.
“Nobody’s trying to steal anyone’s valor,” Williams wrote to Reynolds, Miller and two other soldiers who weighed in on Facebook.