French President Francois Hollande wasted no time expressing his nation’s gratitude to the American and British heroes who thwarted a jihad attack on a high-speed train on Friday, saving dozens of lives and delivering a hog-tied ISIS lone wolf to the French police.
On Monday morning, Hollande pinned the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, upon the chests of Americans Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, and Chris Norman of Britain.
“We are here to honour four men who, thanks to their bravery, managed to save lives,” said Hollande at the ceremony, held at the Elysee Palace in Paris. “In the name of France, I would like to thank you. The whole world admires your bravery. It should be an example to all of us and inspire us. You put your lives at risk in order to defend freedom.”
“A terrorist decided to commit an attack. He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out real carnage, and that’s what he would have done if you hadn’t tackled him at a risk to your own lives,” Hollande continued, referring to the 300 rounds of ammunition carried by the would-be jihadi. “You gave us a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope. Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that is humanity. You are the incarnation of that.”
“If you had told me before that I would one day be awarded the Lgion d’Honneur, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Chris Norman, as quoted by the UK Telegraph. “I did what I could, what I had to do, but it’s the others you should be thanking, especially Spence and Alek.”
“I turned around and I saw he had what looked to be an AK-47 and it looked like it was jammed or wasn’t working and he was trying to charge the weapon,” said Stone, as quoted by the BBC. “Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said ‘Let’s go’ and ran down, tackled him. We hit the ground.”
“The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up,” said Sadler. “I want that lesson to be learned, in times of terror like that, to please do something. Don’t just stand by and watch.”
Norman works as a IT consultant in the U.K. Stone is an Airman First Class, while Skarlatos is a specialist in the Oregon National Guard. The New York Times describes the Americans as appearing in “khaki slacks and polo shirts, bringing a casual touch to the ornate ceremony,” while Stone, “whose thumb was severely cut by the gunman, still had his left arm in a sling as well as a bruised eye.”
The ceremony was also attended by Prime Minister Manuel Valls, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, and Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, along with the head of French rail company SNCF. The train had just crossed the border from Belgium into France when the attack began.
As the Times observes, the American trio was only on the train due to a last-minute decision to visit Paris instead of spending the night in Amsterdam.
Two other heroes from the train attack will also receive the Legion d’Honneur, a 51-year-old French-American passenger named Mark Moogalian, and an as-yet unidentified French citizen. According to the BBC, the French citizen was the first to encounter intrepid mass-murderer Ayoub el-Khazzani and attempt to disarm him. Moogalian saw the scuffle, tried to intervene, and was shot in the neck.
The Telegraph has a full account of the battle from Moogalian’s wife, who credits Spencer Stone with saving her husband’s life:
My husband told me he saw a man who he thought appeared strange because he went into the toilet with his bag and stayed there for a very long time… Then the man came out and he saw that the man was carrying a weapon and another person was tackling him from behind. He told me, ‘Go, this is serious.’ I just moved a few seats away and my husband rushed at the man to take his weapon, a Kalashnikov. Then he collapsed and I saw him through the gaps between the seats. He looked at me and said, ‘I’m hit, I’m hit.’ He thought he was going to die.
There was blood everywhere. I rushed to him and I saw he was hit in the back. I made a sort of tourniquet with a scarf and then I saw that he had another wound on the neck. I ran into carriage number 11 to ask for help. I asked if there was a doctor and I said, ‘He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead’. No one came so I went back to carriage number 12 while the American soldiers were pinning the attacker down…
Spencer Stone knew how to give first aid. He put his finger on the wound in the middle of his neck and he stayed in that position for the whole journey until we got to Arras so I think he really saved my husband’s life. I didn’t have time to think and I thought at first that we were all going to die. That’s what I was thinking, that we were all going to be shot.”
The Frenchman is described as a 28-year-old banker who wishes to remain anonymous.
“You averted what could have been a true carnage,” Hollande said to the railway heroes. “Your heroism should be an example and a source of inspiration for everyone. You behaved like soldiers but also as men, responsible men.”