NBC News’ Brian Williams has been caught in a lie and forced to recant.

The nation’s top-rated news anchor apologized on the air Wednesday evening for fabricating a story of personal heroics, claiming to have been aboard a helicopter in Iraq in 2003 when it was hit by enemy fire.

“I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago,” Williams said.

At the time Williams reported the original incident, he did not claim to be on the Chinook copter that was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in the rear rotor.

“On the ground, we learn the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky,” he said in 2003.

His story was no different five years later in a 2008 blog post: “Chinook helicopter flying in front of ours (from the 101st Airborne) took an RPG to the rear rotor.”

But something changed last week when Williams spoke at a New York Rangers hockey game, honoring a retired soldier who had provided security for grounded helicopters in 2003 when the newsman was in Iraq.

“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 recalled. “Our traveling NBC News team was rescued, surrounded and kept alive by an armor mechanized platoon from the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry.”

‘AMERICAN SNIPER’ BY CHRIS KYLE – $4.95 TODAY ONLY! General praises ‘hero who understands what their transcendent cause is, what’s worth dying for’

That’s not the way crew members of the 159th Aviation Regiment on board the Chinook copter hit by two rockets and small-arms fire remembered it. The anchor wasn’t on their helicopter or the other two Chinooks flying in formation with them, they told Stars & Strips.

Indeed, the flight engineer on Williams’ helicopter, which arrived at the destination west of Baghdad an hour later and was grounded for two days due to a sandstorm, said their flight was not threatened by enemy fire at all.

“No, we never came under direct enemy fire to the aircraft,” Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Miller was quoted as saying.

Lance Reynolds, the flight engineer on the helicopter hit that day took issue with Williams misrepresenting what had been a “life-changing” event for him, saying it “felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”

Those criticisms from service men and women on forced Williams to respond on Facebook.

He wrote:

“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. … 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.

“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.”

And during his Wednesday evening broadcast, Williams issued an apology again:

“On this broadcast last week in an effort to honor and thank a veteran who protected me and so many others after a ground-fire incident in the desert during the Iraq War invasion, I made a mistake in recalling the events of 12 years ago. It did not take long to hear from some brave men and women in the air crews who were also in that desert. I want to apologize.

“I said I was traveling in an aircraft that was hit by RPG fire. I was instead in a following aircraft. We all landed after the ground-fire incident and spent two harrowing nights in a sandstorm in the Iraq desert.

“This was a bungled attempt by me to thank one special veteran, and by extension, our brave military men and women, veterans everywhere, those who have served while I did not. I hope they know they have my greatest respect and now my apology.”

But the failure of America’s top news anchor to separate fact from fiction has overshadowed his apologies and explanations.

Twitter users pounced on the story using the hashtag #BrianWilliamsMisRemembers.

A sampling of their comments:

  • Of all the things we may mis-remember, getting shot at in a helicopter is not one of them.
  • You attack Brian Williams for lying about his helicopter being hit instead of thanking him for killing bin Laden.
  • Currently watching Blackhawk down….. Hey , isn’t that Brian Williams????
  • Walter Cronkite is rolling in his grave. And that’s the way it is – February 4th, 2015.
  • It was Christmas Eve 1968 and John Kerry and I were in Cambodia listening to Richard Nixon …
  • There I was speaking at the dedication of the Gettysburg Battlefield Cemetery …
  • There are veterans who actually were shot at and never wanted to tell anybody about it. Think about them.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.