Three California friends who foiled a gunman’s rampage aboard a high-speed train in France were hailed Thursday by President Barack Obama as the “very best of America.”
Obama brought the three into the Oval Office, marveling at the “incredible story of three high school friends” who last month prevented a “potential catastrophic situation” by confronting a man armed with guns and a box cutter “who clearly was intent on doing a lot of harm to a lot of people, inflicting terror on the French people.”
The three, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, who was wounded in the attack, Oregon National Guard Spc. Alex Skarlatos and civilian Anthony Sadler, sat smiling as Obama spoke.
Childhood Sacramento-area friends, they had boarded the train headed for Paris as part of a reunion trip. But the train trip turned into bedlam when a Moroccan man armed with an AK-47, a Luger pistol and a box cutter started shooting. The three tackled, disarmed and bound the man.
“Because of their courage, because of their quick thinking, because of their teamwork it’s fair to say that a lot of people were saved and a real calamity was averted,” Obama said. Obama, who said he had talkd to the three on the phone soon after the August incident, said he wanted to meet them in person, shake their hands and tell them that they “represent the very best of America, American character.”
“It’s these kinds of young people who make me extraordinarily optimistic and hopeful about our future,” he said.
As for their future, Obama said he was pleased that Stone’s hand was healing and noted he plans to pursue work in medicine. Sadler, too, is interested in sports medicine and therapy. And Obama joked that Skarlatos, “as soon as he’s finished on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ plans to get into law enforcement.
“Whatever they do, they’re going to do it well,” Obama said. “And we just want to say thank you to them for not only saving so many lives, but also for making America look so good.”
French President Francois Hollande bestowed the nation’s highest honor -- the Legion of Honor -- on the trio and Obama said he spoke with Hollande who told the U.S. president that “he could not have been more grateful for what these three outstanding young Americans did.”
Later today, Defense Secretary Ash Carter will bestow the Purple Heart on Stone. In addition to receiving the military medal for combat wounds, Stone will be promoted two ranks, bypassing the level of Senior Airman to reach Staff Sergeant, an upgrade worth an extra $380 a month in pay.
Carter and Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will honor Stone along with Skarlatos and Sadler at a ceremony at the Pentagon.
Stone will receive the Airman’s Medal and the Purple Heart; Skarlatos will receive the Soldier’ medal; and Sadler will receive the Medal of Valor, the Pentagon’s highest award for civilians.
Pentagon officials originally said Stone did not qualify for the Purple Heart because his injuries were not combat-related, but Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James overruled that decision after the French government classified the train assault as a terrorist attack.