Americans, Briton who thwarted attack on train get France's tophonor
By Associated Press, adapted by Newsela staff on 08.27.15 Word Count 774
(From left) French President Francois Hollande, U.S. National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, a senior at California State University in Sacramento, pose for photographers as they leave the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, after Hollande awarded the three men the French Legion of Honor. Photo: AP/Kamil Zihnioglu1. / PARIS, France — The president of France pinned his country's highest award, the Legion d'Honneur, on three Americans and a Briton on Monday. He said they "gave a lesson in courage" when they overcame a heavily armed attacker despite being unarmed themselves. The incident occurred onboard a high- speed train carrying 500 passengers to Paris.
President Francois Hollande said that while two of the Americans who tackled the gunman were soldiers, "on Friday you were simply passengers. You behaved as soldiers but also as responsible men."
Hollande then pinned the medals on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and their longtime friend Anthony Sadler. All took part in subduing the gunman as he moved through the Amsterdam-to-Paris train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. British businessman Chris Norman, who jumped in to assist them, also received the medal.
2. / Dramatic Setting For Ceremony
The Americans looked earnest and slightly overwhelmed — and a little under- dressed for the unanticipated event in the magnificent Elysee Palace. Their short-sleeved polo shirts and khaki pants contrasted with the gilded and velvet- curtained ceremonial hall. President Hollande read out their names one by one, pinned a medal on their chests, and then kissed them on each cheek, in French style.
It was an unusual ceremony for the French president's office, too. Dozens of photographers loudly shouted out the Americans' names as they approached Hollande, a situation quite unlike the quieter, more subdued welcome for visiting heads of state. The four men listened to a translation of Hollande's speech through earpieces, and the visibly proud mothers of Stone and Skarlatos looked on.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and U.S. Ambassador Jane Hartley also attended the ceremony, along with the head of French national railway authority SNCF.
3. / Praise For "A Lesson In Courage"
The men showed "that faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You also gave a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope," Hollande said.
Norman said it was less a question of heroism than survival.
"I said to myself, 'You're not going to die sitting there doing nothing,'" he told The Associated Press after the ceremony. "I would do it again. But I don't know — I think you never know the reaction you will have in those kinds of situations."
The businessman said he "never thought I'd ever been given such a medal. I will try to be a credit to this honor."
His arm in a sling and his eye bruised, the 23-year-old Stone has said he was coming out of a deep sleep when the gunman appeared.
Skarlatos, a 22-year-old National Guardsman who recently returned from Afghanistan, "just hit me on the shoulder and said 'Let's go,'" Stone said.
4. / Quick Action Avoided Tragedy
With those words, Hollande said, a terrible tragedy and possibly many deaths were avoided.
"Since Friday, the entire world admires your courage, your sang-froid, your spirit of solidarity. This is what allowed you to with bare hands — your bare hands — subdue an armed man. This must be an example for all, and a source of inspiration," Hollande said.
Stone left later Monday for Ramstein, Germany, where U.S. air power in Europe is based, and then went for a military medical check at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
Skarlatos accompanied his friend Stone to Germany, while Sadler's plans were not made public.
5. / Gunman Denies He's A Terrorist
The gunman, identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani, has been arrested and is being questioned by French counterterrorism police outside Paris.
El-Khazzani's lawyer, Sophie David, told Le Monde newspaper the gunman is ill- educated and underfed, and that he told her he had spent the past six months traveling throughout Europe. She said he told her he intended only to rob the train and that he is "dumbfounded" the incident is being treated as an act of terrorism. El-Khazzani claims he decided to rob the train after he came across a cache of guns hidden in a public garden near the train station, she said.
A French passenger was the first to try to stop the attacker and was also honored Monday, but he did not want his identity publicly known, said Hollande, who added, "I understand" the decision.
Hollande said another passenger, French-American citizen Mark Moogalian, also intervened. Moogalian is hospitalized with a gunshot wound from the incident — and his wife told Europe-1 radio Monday that he, too, "is among the heroes in this story."
Isabella Risacher-Moogalian described hiding behind train seats from the attacker and then seeing her husband wounded. "He looked at me and said 'I'm hit, I'm hit.' He thought it was over and he was going to die," she said.