Three childhood friends who took on an armed gunman during an otherwise routine Amsterdam to Paris train ride are the latest recipients of France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor. Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and college student Anthony Sadler were awarded the Legion of Honor at the Elysee Palace on August 24, days after they disarmed and hogtied gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani, who is currently denying any ties to terrorism through his first lawyer, Sophie David.
Another American, Mark Moogalian, and a French citizen who wanted to maintain anonymity will be honored at a later date. Moogalian is currently recovering in hospital after being shot in the back and the neck, injuries received when he first confronted the gunman.
The Legion of Honor is France’s highest medal, and the honor sees Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler become Chevaliers, or knights. Skarlatos is a member of the National Guard and had recently completed a tour in Afghanistan, according to his brother Solon Skarlatos, and was traveling in Europe with Stone and Sadler to visit German relatives he had never met. The Legion of Honor recipients had ultimately moved to car 12 of the Paris-bound train because of a bad Wi-Fi connection in their area of the train.
It was Stone who tackled the shooter, who had just exited the bathroom with an AK-47 in hand. Stone also was injured in the attack by a box cutter that the gunman wielded. British passenger Chris Norman, who was also honored with the Legion of Honor, helped tie the gunman up, and Stone immediately tended to Moogalian, who was shot during the melee. Moogalian had grabbed the AK-47 in an attempt to disarm El-Khazzani, but did not realize the gunman also had a pistol and was shot in the back as he turned to protect his wife. Stone, who is an EMT in addition to having military experience, said he had to make a change in plan for dealing with Moogalian’s wounds.
“I was going to use my shirt at first, but I realized that wouldn’t have worked, so I just stuck two of my fingers down into the hole, into what I thought to be the artery and pushed down and the bleeding stopped,” Stone said.
El-Khazzani has said that his plan was to merely rob passengers instead of opening fire and he was initially reluctant to offer authorities any information beyond his name and nationality. He has been on an S-List, or a security watch list, for some time in France, Spain, and Belgium. He is currently being held at the anti-terrorist brigade headquarters at Levallois-Perret just outside Paris.
The Legion of Honor recipients were not only honored by France. While Stone was recovering from wounds received from the box cutter El-Khazzani attacked him with, they also received a call from U.S. President Barack Obama, praising them for their courage under fire. The Legion of Honor was awarded to the three Americans and the British citizen by French President Francois Hollande.
[Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images]