President Barack Obama applauded the three Americans who foiled a terrorist attack on a train bound for Paris, France, in August during a meeting at the White House Thursday.
"They represent the very best of American character," Obama told reporters after he met with U.S. Air Force Airman Spencer Stone, 23, U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos, 22, and civilian Anthony Sadler, 23, according to The Huffington Post.
The three American men were on vacation in Europe when an active gunman opened fire on a train headed for Paris. The men tackled the 26-year-old Moroccan gunman, Ayoub el Khazzani, pulling him off the train when it came to an emergency stop 115 miles north of Paris in Arras, France. The men forced then him to the ground on the platform until police arrived, Opposing Views reported.
The gunman also reportedly had a knife and nine full magazines with nearly 300 rounds of ammunition. He is believed to be an Islamist militant.
“Thanks to (the Americans) we have averted a drama,” French Interior Minster Bernard Cazeneuve said following the attack. The men were “particularly courageous and showed extreme bravery in extremely difficult circumstances,” he added.
The men were awarded France’s highest honor by President Francois Hollande, the Legion d'honneur, along with Briton Chris Norman, who helped subdue the gunman.
"We just want to say thank you to them for not only saving so many lives, but also for making America look so good," Obama said while honoring the men.
"It's these kinds of young people who make me extraordinarily optimistic about the future," Obama said.
The men all have different plans for the future. Stone plans to pursue a career in medicine, Sadler is studying sports medicine and therapy, and Skarlatos will pursue a career in law enforcement once his stint on “Dancing with the Stars” ends.
"Whatever they do," Obama added, "they're going to do it well."
Following their visit to the White House, all three men were awarded honors by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. Stone received the Purple Heart in recognition of injuries he suffered during the attack, as well as the Airman’s Medal. Skarlatos was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, and Sadler was given the Secretary of Defense’s Medal of Valor.
"When some took cover and ran, when others were unsure what to do, these three friends said, 'Let's go,'" Defense Secretary Ash Carter said.