Three Americans received France’s highest honor from its President this morning after risking their lives to stop a terror attack on a train before it could get in motion. The three quick-thinking Americans, joined by a British businessman who helped in rendering the terrorist immobile, received high praise from Francois Hollande. “We are giving you the highest distinction of the country to show you how much we appreciate what you did,” declared François Hollande:
Three Americans who helped thwart an attack by an AK-47-toting gunman on a high-speed train received France’s highest honor on Monday.
French President Francois Hollande gave childhood buddies Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler the Legion d’Honneur. British businessman Chris Norman, who joined the trio and rushed the assailant on the Amsterdam to Paris train Friday, also received the award during a ceremony at the president’s official residence.
Wearing polo shirts and khaki trousers, the Americans arrived at the Élysée Palace in two black SUVs flying U.S. flags along with American Ambassador Jane Hartley.
“Here are four men who with the help of others acted not just to save their own lives but who also came to help others and saved the lives of others,” said Hollande, who added that the actions of the brave few helped prevent “true carnage” aboard the train carrying around 500 people.
It’s good to see bona-fide heroes get their due. The natural inclination for human beings is to run from danger, but some men and women train themselves to run toward it to save others. We see them in our military, our police, fire, and EMT departments as well. Occasionally we see it in others, too; who among us can ever forget Todd Beamer’s “Let’s roll” on Flight 93, when a planeful of Americans gave up their lives to defeat the plans of the 9/11 hijackers?
Glenn Reynolds wrote about the need for action in the face of terror, not just from our first responders, but from everyone:
The purpose of terror is to terrorize. But responding appropriately has the opposite effect. The response of British businessman Chris Norman, who helped subdue the attacker, illustrates this: “Norman said his first reaction was to hide,” The Fiscal Times reported. “But after he saw the Americans fighting the attacker, he said he went to help them.”
Fear is contagious. But so is courage. People should respond not like a herd of sheep but like a pack of wolves. When the follow-up report on the 2001 attacks came out, J.B. Schramm noted in The Washington Post that “on Sept. 11, 2001, American citizens saved the government, not the other way around.” Intelligence agencies failed. Air defense systems failed. But: “Requiring less time than it took the White House to gather intelligence and issue an attack order (which was in fact not acted on), American citizens gathered information from national media and relayed that information to citizens aboard the flight, who organized themselves and effectively carried out a counterattack against the terrorists, foiling their plans. Armed with television and cellphones, quick-thinking, courageous citizens who were fed information by loved ones probably saved the White House or Congress from devastation.”
Nonetheless, when the government reacted, the money went into enriching and strengthening those bureaucracies instead of, as Schramm urged, educating and training American citizens. Perhaps this latest incident will serve as a reminder that there is another way. At the very least, it should remind citizens that while you can’t rely on the government to be everywhere you are, you yourself are always there.
By reminding Americans, the British, and the French of this, these men are heroes on more than one level.