Jean-Hugues Anglade cannot forget August 21.
Upon returning from a brief family holiday, the French actor, his companion and his two sons were onboard the Amsterdam-to-Paris Thalys train.
Seated in the last compartment, a half-hour outside Brussels, their lives changed forever when gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on the train.
It all happened fast, Anglade, 60, recalls. Train staff came running down the aisles. There was noise. A woman burst in from the next car screaming, “He has a gun! He’s killing everybody!”
Anglade immediately reacted, smashing a glass-covered alarm with his bare hand.
Through the doorway, he recalls, “I saw Spencer Stone. He was covered in his own blood.
“He and others were holding down the [suspected] terrorist (Ayoub El Khazzani, whose name Anglade avoids mentioning) and you could see how seriously wounded Spencer was – and then despite his own wounds, he stuck his fingers into another wounded man’s neck, saving his life.
“This is the image I will never forget,” he concludes with a shiver.
The healed scars are there in evidence on Anglade’s hand as he carefully unfolds a piece of paper from his wallet with the names of his American heroes – U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Stone, 23, Army National Guard Specialist Aleksander “Alek” Skarlatos, 22, and student Anthony Sadler, 23 – on his cellphone, he carries a photo of Stone in the hospital.
Anglade and Stone were taken to a hospital and placed in adjacent rooms. He says he did not have an opportunity to speak with Stone. The photo, taken by a member of the surgical team that treated both men, shows Stone after surgery, offering a thumbs up with a can of Coke.
Anglade has framed the photo, hung one in each of his sons’ bedrooms, telling them, “For the rest of your life, when you are feeling low, look at this picture.'”
The very first to call Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler “heroes,” Anglade recognizes the role of Mark Moogalian and Chris Norman (two men who assisted in the take-down of the gunman) as well, but his memory is strongest of the three American friends who intervened. “It is Spencer I focused on, because of the blood, but as I’ve said before, we were in the wrong place, but with the right people.
“These three guys, they were all so brave, so courageous. They saved my life, my sweetheart, my sons’ lives. For weeks after the events, I…” his voice drifts away.
His sons are 13 and 14 years old. “They gave my boys their entire lives,” he says finally.
Anglade spoke out in the immediate aftermath of the Thalys incident, but has not spoken publically since. He needed time to heal, he admits, to process. In the interim, he has thought about contacting the trio, made inquiries, but hesitated.
“I want to make contact with them. I want to thank them. To express my… but in a way, I’ve felt myself speechless,” he says.
The recent Paris shootings, which killed 130, he admits, have caused him to be uncomfortably “revisited at night” by memories of that August day.
The November 13 attacks came only 10 weeks after the Thalys. For Anglade, “they only seem a continuation. It’s difficult to say, but I’ve been expecting this, dreading this,” he says.
“In my mind, that it is almost as if the attack started on a train in August, got derailed by Americans and now this horrible train has finally arrived in Paris,” he adds. “Right after the Thalys attack, I was certain something like this would be tried again.
“It’s unimaginable. So many Parisians killed, so many traumatized, so many lives broken.”
Anglade says he’ll never forget the strength and resolve of the three men who came to the defense of all on board that fateful Paris-bound train in August.
“I feel blessed. We escaped this and I have immense gratitude to Spencer, Alek and Anthony. I’ve seen their heroism. I know an insane monster planned to take my life, kill my sons. I know that destiny put these Americans in the path of this monster. I know that they were heroic.
“For me, it’s important that I thank Spencer, thank Anthony, for reassuring my family after the long moments, which felt like 10 minutes, coming into our car, looking for blankets, saying: ‘He’s under control!’ ”
Anglade exhales, “It’s important, but I can’t put into words the emotions I lived until this moment.
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Flashing a smile, Anglade adds, “It would be my greatest joy to have my sons meet them, to welcome them to my home – and, at the very least, offer Spencer, Alek and Anthony dinner in Paris – with a very good wine – as soon as it is possible.
“I would like to show them around the Paris they were coming to see, but didn’t. What’s clear to me is there isn’t enough I can say to thank them or enough I could do to show them my respect.”
“It is a shame,” he suggests suddenly, “not to be born an American. Not to appreciate the way you think about certain things, the way you live.”
The actor, who has starred in an impressive number of contemporary French classics (and was featured on The Sopranos) has regularly visited the U.S. for 30 years.
“There’s so much I admire, love about America,” he says. “It’s Spencer and the others I want to say ‘merci’ to, but in a way, it was also America that saved us because it was three Americans who stepped in.
“So in a way, I want to say ‘Merci Spencer’ and also ‘Merci l’Am rique!’ “