A national network journalist who sustained a traumatic brain injury in Iraq shared about his experience Tuesday.
ABC News correspondent and anchor Bob Woodruff said if given the opportunity to live over again, he would choose the same path.
“I would have certainly gone (into) journalism, and I think I would have covered the same things that I was covering,” he said during an interview before his speech. “I think the difference is I think next time I would duck.”
Woodruff spoke during an event held at The University of Texas at Tyler R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center.
The lecture was co-sponsored by Samaritan Counseling Center, CBS19/London Broadcasting and UT Tyler.
Woodruff was traveling in the first of an eight-vehicle caravan traveling with the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq in 2006 when he and his cameraman were standing up with their heads sticking out of the tank as they prepared to shoot some news footage.
The driver had apparently told them to get down because it was more dangerous, but within seconds, an improvised explosive device about 20 yards away went off and the air blast, rocks and metal hit the men.
The rocks and metal shattered the left side of Woodruff’s jaw and also hit other parts of his body, such as his nose, scapula and narrowly missed his carotid artery.
“I was looking at the palm trees and suddenly this blast,” he said. “I just saw my body floating underneath …”
He fell into the tank and about a minute later asked his cameraman if they were alive. Doug, the cameraman answered in the affirmative and that was the last thing Woodruff remembers before he woke up 36 days later from a medically induced coma.
Journalism wasn’t the first choice for Woodruff, but once he got a taste of it, nothing else could satisfy.
A lawyer by training, he had secured a job in 1987 working with mergers and acquisitions. However, once the market collapsed, that position became somewhat boring.
So, he contacted some Chinese friends he had made in law school to see whether they could get him a job at a Chinese law school. He had studied Chinese and was open to the opportunity.
They found him a position, and he went overseas for a year with his wife, Lee, to teach.
In 1989, an American friend working in China for CBS News got him a job translating during the uprising in Tiananmen Square.
“What we witnessed in that massacre at Tiananmen Square changed things,” he said.
And although he went back to the United States and worked for two more years as an attorney, he then switched to journalism and hasn’t turned back.
Woodruff was at the height of his career — he was named co-anchor of “ABC World News Tonight” in December 2005 — when he was injured in Iraq in January 2006.
But there was really no question in his mind if he would come back to the profession.
“Well, I wanted to be back at work,” he said before his speech. “The idea of giving this up would have been the greatest defeat.”
Woodruff did report again starting with a one-hour story for the network that shed light on the injuries sustained by military members and how they could be treated.
He and his wife wrote a book entitled “In an Instant,” which chronicles his injuries and their family’s journey through recovery.
The family also started the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which raises money to assist injured service members, veterans and their families and has reached more than 1 million people, according to its website.
Today, Woodruff continues his work for ABC News. Throughout his career, he has interviewed presidents, British royalty and other foreign leaders.
He has reported on wars in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and witnessed history in North Korea, Syria, Jordan and Rome.
But it was his first on-air report after his injury that stands out among them all.
“I wanted to tell the story on ABC on what I knew because I was in that tribe, I was in Bethesda Naval, I knew those families and I knew those that had gone through and had seen or felt the same thing I did,” he said. “So I wanted to tell that story … and I think it was probably the most effective, in many ways, the most moving story I ever did.”