Soldiers offer eyewitness accounts of the Brian Williams Chinook story

The crew of one of the three stricken Chinook helicopters poses after their safe landing. They are (from left) Sgt. Lance Reynolds, 29, the flight engineer; Staff Sgt. Michael O'Keefe, 33, the door gunner; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Randy Summerlin, 31, the jump-seat pilot; Chief Warrant Officer 3 Dan Helus, 37, the pilot-in-command; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Clay Rekow, 27, the right-seat pilot; and Sgt. Kevin Ellison, 26, the crew chief.


By TRAVIS J. TRITTEN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 6, 2015

NBC News anchor Brian Williams has told a war story over the years since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It grew to where he was claiming to be on a Chinook helicopter that was forced down after taking rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire.

In his on-air apology Wednesday, he backed off that, but said that he “was instead in a following aircraft.”

Soldiers who were in two Chinook companies say he was not in, nor ever near, a helicopter that was being fired upon:

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that no NBC reporters were on any of the aircraft.”

— Jerry Pearman, a veteran who was a lieutenant colonel and the mission commander when one of the three Chinooks in Big Windy Company came under rocket and small-arms fire

“This is etched pretty well into my brain … We had just entered the battle so that was Day 1 for us.”

— Pearman

“Over the years it faded and then to see it last week it was I can’t believe [Williams] is still telling this false narrative … He was definitely on those other aircraft.”

— Mike O’Keeffe, veteran who was the door gunner on the Big Windy Company Chinook hit by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire

“It is not about the glory or anything. There are people who did things that day … To go out and talk like you were on that aircraft — and [Williams] wasn’t — and not acknowledge what that [Chinook] pilot did [to keep the crew safe] is horrible.”

— O’Keeffe

“From my knowledge, [Williams] was riding on another flight of Chinooks that were transporting bridge parts.”

— Lance Reynolds, veteran who was the flight engineer on the Big Windy Company Chinook hit by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire

“When we saw Brian Williams, we were miles and miles away from where the engagement happened.”

— Reynolds

“Like I said, it was at least a half hour later [after the attacked helicopter’s emergency landing] … a ramp opened and I remembered seeing news crews coming out of the Chinook that just landed.”

— Reynolds

“There was no need to polish the story by saying, ‘I was on the aircraft that took fire.’ I don’t know how he could have mistaken that … I don’t think it was a mistake he made at the moment.”

— Reynolds

“It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I’ve known 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.”

— Reynolds

“I can see how it would be appealing for him to add a little to the story. I’m sure it sounded good when he pitched it.”

— Reynolds

“They [Williams and the NBC crew] recorded everything we were hearing about this aircraft being shot down.”

— Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller, a Chinook platoon sergeant in Germany who was the flight engineer on the helicopter carrying Williams and the NBC crew

“Soon after we passed them [the three Chinooks in Big Windy Company] they got shot down.”

— David Luke, a veteran who was a flight engineer on one of the Hercules Company helicopters flying on the mission carrying Williams and NBC

“I have a feeling that [Williams] didn’t have a choice [but to apologize] … I don’t think it would ever of happened [otherwise]. He would have told that war story until he was on his dying bed.”

— Luke

“I think it wasn’t enough for [Williams] and he needed to put a little more of a twist on it.”

— Luke

“When we arrived at Objective Rams, [there was] a CH-47 from the “Big Windy” unit out of Germany. After landing, we learned that the parked aircraft had received small-arms fire and had been hit with an RPG ... We were not flying ‘behind’ them. Our missions were completely separate.”

— Chris Simeone, pilot in command of the flight that carried Brian Williams, in an Op-Ed in the New York Post

Twitter: @Travis_Tritten