The first call came to Lee, on April 6, 2003, soon after midnight. It was from Elena Nachmanoff, a vice president of NBC News, who hadn't been able to get hold of Melanie and knew she and Lee were friends. "The first thing I said to Lee," Elena recalls, "was, 'Your husband is fine, but something is wrong with David Bloom and we need to speak to Melanie.'" David had suffered a pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis that developed while riding cramped in his "Bloom Mobile"—a specially outfitted tank he'd conceived with satellite capability to broadcast from the front lines as troops began to close in during the 2003 assault on Baghdad. Lee dialed Melanie's private number, woke her up, and told her something had happened to David and to expect a call from NBC. She also told her she was on the way. As Lee made the 20-minute drive to her friend's house, Elena called back, and Lee asked what she was about to walk into. "Oh, Lee," Elena said. "He's dead."
Inside, Melanie was lost in shock. "I literally didn't believe what had happened," she says now, "but I have this comforting image of Lee coming right up to me, taking my face in her hands with those green eyes of hers almost glowing, willing me to get a grip, pulling me back into reality, insisting, 'This is real, David has died, this is going to be okay, and you're going to be all right.'"
Shifting into high gear, Lee took on the persona she calls the General. Elena remembers it well: "She told Melanie, 'We're going to make calls, figure out what you're going to tell your family, his family, the kids. Then we will break down, and get through this together.' And she didn't let go of her for weeks and months. She never stopped."
When Bob Woodruff reached Melanie that first night from Iraq, she wept and asked him to come home. "I thought she had the right to ask," says Lee. "It had never occurred to me. But she was petrified for him, and she just wanted all of us to be a family, and see him and hug him, and for her girls to be able to see him." Bob left his military unit and immediately returned to New York, where days later he served as a pallbearer for David's funeral at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Hours after David's death, Bob discovered a message he'd left him, relayed from the ABC news desk. "Tell him to stay safe," David had said, "and keep his head down."
As the inevitable quiet came in the wake of David's death—days that Melanie now recalls brought "a fresh hell"—Lee was there, too. But the intense periods of grief eventually gave way to the gentler, lighter moments reminiscent of the early days of their friendship.
They were sharing one of their long and easy phone calls almost three years later, on January 28, 2006, as Lee sat by the pool at Disney World watching her kids swim. She told Melanie she could see the Bloom family's favorite hotel at the resort just across the water. Bob was off in Iraq again. By now he'd been named coanchor of ABC's World News Tonight after the untimely death of Peter Jennings, and weeks into the job, he was on an assignment that had him riding with the Iraqi army in an American-Iraqi convoy.
Lee and Melanie finished chatting and eventually went to bed. This time when the phone rang in the middle of the night, it was for Melanie. ABC, she was told, was trying to reach Lee. After providing the name of her friend's hotel, Melanie waited 20 minutes to call her. By then Lee had received word that her husband and his cameraman, Doug Vogt, had been injured when a roadside bomb exploded next to the tank they were riding atop of. Both had suffered head injuries. Bob's was particularly serious. The men were to be airlifted to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
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