Airman on Paris-bound train could get Air Force medal; another hero emerges

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone’s military unit is nominating him for the prestigious Airman’s Medal in honor of his actions to subdue a heavily armed gunman on the Amsterdam-to-Paris train last Friday, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James told reporters.

And Stone — whose nickname from his training days has been “Captain America” — could eventually be eligible for the Purple Heart, if French authorities conclude the attack was a terrorist event, according to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh.

Stone, U.S. Army Spec. Alek Skarlatos, their friend Anthony Sadler and British businessman Chris Norman, all jumped on the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his chest. The four received France’s highest award, the Legion d’Honneur, on Monday.

“Had it not been for this heroic quartet, I’m quite sure that today we would be sitting here discussing a bloodbath instead of what, in fact, we are going to discuss,” James said during a Pentagon press conference announcing the unit’s award nomination. “Airman Stone and his friends personified service before self: no question about it. Their fearlessness, courage, and selflessness should inspire all of us, and thanks to them, no one died on that high-speed European train on Friday.”

The Airman’s Medal is the service’s highest non-combat award, and is ranked above the Purple Heart. The medal is awarded to service members who commit a heroic act, “usually at the voluntary risk of his or her life but not involving actual combat,” according to the Air Force description of the award.

James said she spoke to Stone and his mother, and was told that he is doing well, but needs some rest after the events of the last several days.

Sadler, 23, is scheduled to start his senior year at Sacramento State on Monday, although university officials are waiting to confirm when he will return home.

Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen said eager donors are lining up to help Sadler with scholarship money for his last year studying kinesiology. The university is thrilled, he said, to have such a courageous man on campus.

“We want to have a celebration,” Nelsen said. “But we want to have the type of celebration he wants to have.”

As would the City of Sacramento, which is planning a parade for all three men, who grew up in the area. Besides Sadler, Stone and Skarlatos grew up in nearby Carmichael, California. In fact, the three friends likely won’t lack for invites to fetes and parades, big and small.

“We’d like to invite them to a rally to honor them and give them time to interact with current students,” said Trent Allen, spokesman for the San Juan Unified School District in Sacramento County, California, where Skarlatos and Stone attended high school. “That’s on our wish list.”

Skarlatos, who moved to Roseburg, Oregon, as a teenager, returned from deployment to Afghanistan in July. He is studying at the local community college and hopes for a career in law enforcement, said his stepmother Karen Skarlatos.

He plans to stay in Germany with Stone until he is released, she said Monday. Then they’re being flown straight to New York, where she assumes they will sit for interviews.

“They really want to have a day that they can have to themselves in Germany, but whether or not they’re going to get that, I don’t know,” Karen Skarlatos said.


Mark Moogalian and wife were seated facing each other on the high-speed train when she saw only his expression and the urgent “Get out, this is serious.” Then, Isabelle Risacher Moogalian said, she ducked behind some seats as he lunged to grab the assault rifle from the gunman’s hands.

“When my husband collapsed, I saw across the seats. He looked at me and he said ‘I’m hit, I’m hit.’ He thought it was over and he was going to die,” she told Europe-1 radio. The bullet struck him in the back and exited through the neck.

The American teacher and artist who has lived in France for more than two decades has emerged as another hero in the high-speed train attack thwarted by a group of quick-thinking men. According to French President Francois Hollande, a Frenchman was the first to encounter the gunman as he left the toilet, alerting others in the area. That person, Hollande said, wished to remain anonymous.

Moogalian remained hospitalized Tuesday in the northern city of Lille, and his sister in Virginia said his role in trying to stop what French authorities are calling a terror attack was in character.

“Mark would give anything for anybody,” Julia Allen told NBC News. “He’s just that kind of person.”

Risacher said U.S. Airman Stone came across the wounded Moogalian and stanched the bleeding by holding his finger on the wound until paramedics could take over.

Moogalian runs a language school from a houseboat in the outskirts of Paris, according to the school’s website. Music and art are clearly his passions, as his personal website attests, with its range of sculpture, paintings, photos and downloads of music he performs in a duo with his wife. In the duo’s biography, they describe themselves as “largely bicultural, bringing the best of both worlds.”

“My husband is among the heroes of this story, and he nearly paid with his life, because just a few millimeters closer and the bullet would have sliced his carotid in exiting,” Risacher said.

Moogalian and the Frenchman will receive the Legion of Honor, as did Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler and Norman.

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