Anthony Sadler's father says his son is a "quick thinker."

By Susan Young and Alynda Wheat
Updated August 22, 2015 05:40 PM
Pascal Rossignol/REUTERS

“You boys make sure to stay together and have each other’s backs,” the Rev. Anthony Sadler Sr., said to his son before Anthony Jr.’s fateful trip to Europe. The younger Sadler clearly took his father’s words to heart, as he and two friends took down a gunman on a European train bound for Paris on Friday.

Sadler, USAF Airman First Class Spencer Stone and Army National Guard Specialist Aleksander Skarlatos, were on a train in northern France when a gunman turned his Kalashnikov rifle on the passengers. The three Americans subdued the suspect, with Airman Stone sustaining an injury in the assault. (Stone has since been released from the hospital.)

“When [Anthony] called he was excited, he was ramped up,” the Rev. Sadler told PEOPLE. “The first thing out of his mouth was what any parent would want to hear: ‘Dad, I’m all right.'”

The trio, on their way from Amsterdam to meet up with another friend, have been pals since middle school.

“They were good kids,” recalls the Rev. Sadler. “They got into mischief, [but] they always looked after each other.”

Anthony Jr., 23, who studies kinesiology at California State University, Sacramento, also works in retail.

“He’s a strong man of faith, but because he works Sundays, he doesn’t attend church quite as often as I would like,” says his father, laughing.

Still, the younger Sadler is “a responsible young man, and he’s got a great sense of humor,” according to his father. “He loves people and he’s an extrovert. He’s even-tempered and mild-mannered, with very good problem-solving skills – and a quick thinker. I think some of those things came into play [on the train.]

The aftermath of the attack has been a whirlwind, says the elder Sadler, adding that his son “was really excited about talking to President Obama.” There’s more celebration to come, as all three men have been invited to join French President Francois Hollande for a ceremony at the élysée Palace on Monday.

It’s been so busy, in fact, that the minister has barely had time to write his Sunday sermon. “It was going to be on our annual choir day,” he says, “but now I think my son is going to be a big part of it.”

Said like a proud papa.