(Reuters) - NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams said on Wednesday he was sorry for "making a mistake" when he said he was on a helicopter that was hit and forced down by rocket fire during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, after soldiers complained it was not true.
Williams made the claim on his broadcast last Friday while reporting a tribute at a New York Rangers hockey game for a retired soldier who provided ground security during the incident. Williams said he and his news crew were protected by a mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry after their Chinook helicopter was crippled by enemy fire.
That prompted crew members on the 159th Aviation Regiment's Chinook that was hit by two rockets and small arms fire to tell the Stars and Stripes military newspaper that the journalist had arrived on a different helicopter an hour later.
In a statement responding to the soldiers, Williams said they were absolutely right and he 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," Williams wrote.
He said he supposed that repeatedly watching a video of himself inspecting the impact damage, plus "the fog of memory over 12 years," made him conflate and misremember events, some of which took place in a thick "Orange Crush" sandstorm.
"Nobody's trying to steal anyone's valor," he wrote. "Quite the contrary: I was and remain a civilian journalist covering the stories of those who volunteered for duty."
On his show on Wednesday evening, Williams said those two nights in the desert were "harrowing," and he called the story "a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran."
He said he hoped veterans everywhere know that they have his greatest respect, "and also now, my apology."
(Reporting by Daniel Wallis in Denver; Editing by Peter Cooney and Eric Walsh)