Brian Williams Deserves The Military Community’s Forgiveness

On Wednesday, Stars and Stripes reported that NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams had lied about being aboard a helicopter hit by an RPG during the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a claim he made Friday night while telling the story of a retired soldier he met on the ground in Iraq in 2003. Calls for his resignation or for him to be fired by NBC soon followed.

Personally, I think we should give Williams the benefit of the doubt. He made a mistake. He apologized for it. He’s also been a staunch advocate for our community since before it was cool to support the troops. Before every company and every celebrity had their own private veterans cause, Brian Williams had our backs. He’s been there consistently for IAVA, for the Bob Woodruff Foundation, as a board member of the Medal of Honor Foundation, and many others.

Exactly 10 years ago, I was responsible for writing and editing dozens of awards for Marines in our company who had fought in the Battle of Fallujah. One of the toughest parts was always finding the truth. Four Marines would go into a house and come out with six different stories. It is one of the reasons that legendary author and Vietnam War veteran Tim O’Brien writes that a true war story is never about heroism or courage in the face of fire, but usually just awful, inexplicable tragedy.

Stars and Stripes interviewed a few members of the flight crew, and they had one account of what happened. They said the helicopter never came under fire and wasn’t even in their formation. Pretty damning. Then on Thursday, the pilot of the bird he was in said they did come under fire, though not from an RPG, and that they were in the same formation. Now that pilot is recanting his claim and questioning his own memories.

I wasn’t there, so I have no idea what actually happened. But I do know that in war, the truth is always a fickle beast.

In full disclosure, I do know Williams. I don’t know him all that well, but I do know him as an incredibly decent man and a model husband and father. And I’ll alway be indebted to him for telling my story to get my translator to the United States with the hopes that it would lead to others to safety as well. Our country is still not doing a good job of that, but Williams and his team have been committed to telling the stories of our translators, of our wounded, of our comrades, and our wars.

If he steps down or is forced down, we’ll lose an incredibly powerful voice and advocate for our community. Personally, I believe everyone deserves a second chance, and in William’s case, I’m willing to say he’s earned one.