French President Francois Hollande bestowed the Legion of Honor on three Americans and a British businessman who beat down a terrorist on a high-speed train.
The three Americans grew up together: Spc. Alek Skarlatos, a National Guardsman from Oregon who just wrapped up a deployment in Afghanistan; Anthony Sadler, a senior at California State University, Sacramento; and Airman First Class Spencer Stone, who serves at Lajes Air Base in the Azores. The Brit, Chris Norman, is a grandfather of three and IT consultant.
A French citizen and a French-American were also going to receive the Legion of Honor later for their roles in stopping the attack.
The gunman, 25-year-old Moroccan national Ayob El Khazzani, was on the radar of Spanish authorities for his pro-jihad speeches there. He spent time in France and Syria, and was living in Belgium when he got on the train.
Hollande told Skarlatos and Stone, “You behaved as soldiers but also as responsible men.”
“A terrorist decided to commit an act. He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out a real carnage, and that’s what he would have done if you hadn’t tackled him at a risk to your own lives,” he told all of the heroes.
Sadler said of their actions, “Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything.”
Separately, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Le Journal du Dimanche that “the tragedy which was prevented underlines the need for determined, meticulous, unrelenting, implacable and internationally-coordinated action – in short, the program of action of the Interior Minister and his services.”
“But it also reminds us of the reality of the global threat and the magnificent virtue of bravery,” Fabius added.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter lauded his servicemen and the others “who stepped forward to prevent an even greater tragedy from taking place aboard that train.”
“Airman Stone and Specialist Alex Skarlatos are two reasons why – on duty and off – ours is the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Carter said.
We often use the word hero… …and in this case I think that word has never been more appropriate pic.twitter.com/YQpRt1bno2
— Jane Hartley (@USAmbFrance) August 24, 2015