Woodruff returns to tell his story -- and others'
As soon as ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff was able to speak again, and read -- when it was clear that he would make a dramatic recovery from injuries he suffered in Iraq -- he started asking producers to let him report his own story.
The question was how. And the answer, Woodruff and ABC executives quickly decided, was to move beyond personal journey and produce a piece of hard-hitting journalism.
"To Iraq and Back," the ABC News special that airs tonight at 10 on Channel 5, begins with a chilling retelling of the day, in January 2006, when Woodruff and ABC cameraman Doug Vogt were hit by a roadside bomb in Taji , Iraq. It describes the extent of Woodruff's devastating wounds and notes that doctors were uncertain, at first, about how much speech and mental capabilities he would regain. (Vogt also suffered serious injuries, but survived and is recovering.)
But the special -- a transcript of which was provided to reporters yesterday -- quickly transitions into a story about the Iraq war itself, and the plight of the troops who suffer from traumatic brain injuries. Woodruff interviews veterans and their families, uncovers deep cracks in the medical system, and challenges the Veterans Administration over how many soldiers have been hurt.
In a conference call with reporters yesterday morning, Woodruff spoke about the subject with a sense of mission; asked if the government is "falling short in helping veterans," Woodruff said, simply, "Yes."
But he was also cheerful and articulate, making frequent jokes as he discussed his yearlong journey from the brink of death.
Though he was conscious in the moments just after the attack -- Woodruff said he "saw my body floating below me" -- he lapsed into a coma and didn't emerge from it for weeks. A rock had traveled through his neck and settled on top of his carotid artery. Doctors had to remove a portion of his skull. And once he awoke, Woodruff said, he couldn't remember his daughters' existence, or recall the names of the states.
Woodruff said he still has trouble remembering words and names; at one point during the conference call, he had to be prompted with the word "intestine." He said he gets rehabilitation therapy at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital once or twice a week, and that work has been a form of therapy, as well.
"I'm pursuing various stories about what's happened to those who have returned from the war," he said. "And then, of course, there's going to be some day -- once upon a time -- when I will move on to a lot of stories that I'm dying to cover."
Asked whether he would ever return to Iraq, Woodruff said that friends have urged him not to go, but "it's one of the things I still have to think about for a long period of time."
Then ABC News President David Westin stepped in.
"I will not send him," Westin said. "It would be the height of recklessness."
Yesterday was the first time Woodruff spoke to reporters about his ordeal. Today, he starts making the TV rounds to promote the ABC special and a new memoir, "In an Instant," which he coauthored with his wife, Lee. At 7:30 a.m. today, he'll appear with Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America." Later today, he and his wife are scheduled to appear on Oprah Winfrey's show.