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American Heroes Who Stopped Train Attack Say 'It Was Either Do Something or Die' as They Are Set to Receive the Légion d'Honneur

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Courtesy Peter Mikelbank

The three Americans – Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler – who stopped a gunman on a train bound for Paris on Friday will receive France’s highest order, the légion d’honneur, at a ceremony, Monday morning. The announcement comes following the trio’s first joint appearance in front of the press on Sunday in Paris.

With members of their family listening in the background, the trio were introduced by American Ambassador to France Jane Hartley, “as having demonstrated the very best of America.” Speaking together for the first time, the three friends shared their experience, describing its aftermath as “dreamlike” while offering dramatic new details.

Stone, whose eye and hand injuries were evident, explained “it’s kind of a long story. I’d just woken up from a deep sleep.” He modestly attributed his motivation to survival instinct.

“I turned around and I saw he had what looked to be an AK-47 and it looked like it was jammed or wasn’t working and he was trying to charge the weapon.

FREDERIC LETURQUE HANDOUT
“Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said ‘let’s go’ and ran down, tackled him. We hit the ground.”

“It wasn’t really a conscious decision,” Skarlatos said.

“At that time he [the gunman] was cocking the AK-47,” added Sadler, “so it was either do something or die.”

Skarlatos described the alleged attacker – identified by officials as 26-year-old Moroccan citizen Ayoub El Khazzani – as someone with “no weapons training. But someone who if he knew what he was doing would certainly gone through all the magazines – and we wouldn’t be here.”

“I feel that our training really kicked in,” Skarlatos, who serves as a National Guardsman, observed. “After the shooter was subdued. In providing medical care and security, checking the other cars.”

U.S. Airman Stone, who ignored his own injuries to assist the passenger who was shot, agreed.

“Other than my finger, I really didn’t feel my other injuries.” With medical training, Stone addressed the passengers wounds, saying “I just basically identified the hole, stuck my two fingers in the hole and found what I thought to be the artery, pushed down and the bleeding stopped.

“I just said ‘Thank God’ and held that position until the paramedics got there.”

Asked what lesson he felt the world should take from their experience, Sadler reflected; “These are my friends, I was the third one to get up, and so basically, in times of crisis … do something,” he said.

The group also explained that while they had initially purchased tickets in the First Class car, they moved to a different car during the trip. Thirty minutes before the incident, they moved back to their assigned seats because the “wi-fi was lousy.”

Speaking exclusively to PEOPLE after the press conference, the trio relaxed, explaining they are having difficulties putting their experience into perspective. Their shared humor is helping. “We’ve been friends all our lives,” said Sadler. “But this is just ridiculous.”

Spencer Stone in France on Aug. 22
AFP/Getty
Their families will attend the élysées Palace ceremonies tomorrow morning where they will meet with French President Francois Hollande. Before that, there will be a barbecue in the Ambassador’s residence.

Stone, who will fly from Paris to a U.S. military hospital immediately following the élysées Palace ceremony, said he would like to come back to France. “If they’ll let me,” he smiled shyly.