They boarded the train as tourists. They got off as heroes.
Oregon National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone and recent California State University graduate Anthony Sadler, buddies since childhood, were winding down what had been a fantastic backpacking trip through Europe in October 2015 when terror struck.
Or tried to, anyway.
The three sprang into action when a man burst from their train’s bathroom with an assault weapon, pistol, box cutter and tons of ammunition. François Hollande, then president of France, presented them with Legion of Honor medals in a ceremony assembled so hastily that the three strapping young Americans attended in borrowed polo shirts and khakis.
“The attack happens on a Friday, and on Monday we’re in the French equivalent of the White House,” Stone said. “We were definitely humbled by the experience.”
Upon their return to America, then President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Valor to Sadler, the Airman’s Medal and a Purple Heart to Stone and a Soldier’s Medal to Skarlatos.
Their daring exploits were chronicled in the nonfiction book they wrote with Jeffrey E. Stern, and a movie adaptation seemed inevitable. In a unique twist, though, director Clint Eastwood decided to have the three heroes play themselves.