Men who disarmed gunman get France's highest honor
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French President François Hollande awarded France's highest honor, the Legion d'honneur, to three Americans and a British man who helped disarm a machine gun-toting suspected Islamist militant on a train bound for Paris. (Reuters)
By Michael Birnbaum August 24 at 6:15 AM
BRUSSELS — One of the Americans who prevented a bloodbath on a high-speed European train serves in the Air Force. Another is in the Oregon National Guard. On Monday, the enlisted men became knights — of the Legion of Honor — along with two others who took part in the rescue, as French President François Hollande awarded them France’s highest decoration.
In a solemn ceremony held in France’s glittering Elysée Palace, the seat of the presidency, Hollande said the four men had averted a catastrophe when they tackled and trussed a heavily armed man who had opened fire on the train.
The men have resisted being labeled as heroes, saying that they gave little thought to their actions until after the heat of the moment. At the ceremony, the trio of Americans, friends since childhood, dressed modestly in polo shirts and khakis. But Hollande said their coolness under fire was a lesson to all of France — and the world.
“You have shown that in the face of terror, you can resist,” Hollande said before he pinned the ribbons on the men’s chests. “So you have given us a lesson of courage, of determination and therefore of hope.”
“There were over 500 passengers on that train. Ayoub el-Khazzani possessed over 300 bullets. And we realize now how close we were to a tragedy and a massacre,” Hollande said, formally identifying the suspect in the shooting for the first time, a Moroccan man just short of his 26th birthday.
Gunman taken down by Americans aboard a French train
A gunman opened fire on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding two people before being subdued by three American passengers.
The men who were awarded the medals were Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, of California; Specialist Alek Skarlatos, just returned from a deployment to Afghanistan; their childhood friend Anthony Sadler, and British businessman Chris Norman. Hollande said he also intended to award the honor to Mark Moogalian, a dual French-American citizen who also took part in the rescue and was severely wounded, and a French citizen who was the first to try to disarm the shooter and has asked to remain anonymous.
Hollande pinned the red ribbons and five-pointed medal on each man’s chest, then kissed each on one cheek, then the other. The two servicemen plan to proceed with their families to Germany for further medical treatment, while Sadler plans to return home to California to start his senior year of college, they said Sunday.