A Firsthand Report on the Wounds of War

Bob Woodruff, who sustained a severe head injury in January 2006 in Iraq, interviews a subject last month.
Bob Woodruff, who sustained a severe head injury in January 2006 in Iraq, interviews a subject last month. (By Heidi Gutman -- Abc Via Associated Press)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

NEW YORK, Feb. 26 -- At the moment of impact, when the roadside bomb sent shrapnel and rocks hurtling into his face, Bob Woodruff says, "I saw my body floating below me, kind of a whiteness."

"Am I alive?" the ABC anchor asked the crew accompanying him in the Iraqi tank 13 months ago.

He was, but just barely.

When Woodruff awoke from a 36-day coma, he couldn't remember his brothers' names, couldn't even remember that he had twin 6-year-old daughters. The top of the right side of his head was missing, after surgeons were forced to remove part of his skull.

By contrast, the man who met reporters here Monday was upbeat, lucid and funny, if still unable to fully comprehend what happened. "In so many ways it's a miracle," Woodruff said.

He was, like any journalist, determined to tell his story. But in an hour-long special that airs Tuesday night at 10, Woodruff does more than that. He visits with Iraq veterans who also suffered traumatic brain injuries, documents their painfully slow progress and accuses the Pentagon of withholding information about how widespread these debilitating wounds have become.

Woodruff's reporting packs an emotional punch because he is, quite simply, a man who cheated death. Never before had an anchor for an American broadcast network been injured in war. Woodruff instantly became a symbol of the dangers that journalists face in Iraq, and is trying to use his higher profile to illuminate the plight of soldiers who struggle with these injuries far from the spotlight.

When he talks to these men, when he calls them "brother," when he hugs their loved ones, the bond is unmistakable.

Woodruff, 45, is launching a multimedia campaign that includes appearances Tuesday with Oprah Winfrey and on "Good Morning America," and the release of a book ("In an Instant") written with his wife, Lee, about their ordeal.

Lee Woodruff is the emotional heart of the television special as she recalls, in a narrative punctuated by home video, talking to doctors about her husband's condition. "I remember asking if he was going to be blind or deaf, and they didn't know," she says.

Each day, she says, she tried to "calibrate how much hope I was going to have that day." Before Bob came out of the coma, she worried that he would not recognize her. "Will he still love me?" Lee recalls asking a doctor.

After a screening of the program Monday, Bob Woodruff said: "Every time I see my wife crying, it kills me a little bit."

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