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WASHINGTON — The three young Americans who thwarted a gunman on a Paris-bound passenger train last month got their moment in the Oval Office on Thursday — and they dressed for it.
President Barack Obama praised Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler for teamwork, courage and quick-thinking actions that averted “a real calamity.”
He celebrated them as three friends who had been headed for a fun reunion in Paris when they “ended up engaging a potential catastrophic situation and pinning down someone who clearly was intent on doing a lot of harm to a lot of people, inflicting terror on the French people.”
The three sat attentively on an Oval Office couch and chair as Obama praised them as “the very best of America.”
They previously had been awarded France’s highest honour by President Francois Hollande. They showed up for that hastily scheduled ceremony at the ornate Elysee Palace a little underdressed — in polo shirts and khakis.
This time, Oregon National Guardsman Skarlatos and Airman 1st Class Stone were in military uniform and Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, wore a sport coat and open-collared dress shirt.
“It’s these kinds of young people who make me extraordinarily optimistic about the future,” Obama said.
The three last month subdued a man with ties to radical Islam who boarded the train with a Kalashnikov rifle, a pistol and a box cutter. A British businessman and a French-American also have been praised for their efforts to stop the gunman.
As for what the future holds, Obama said Stone, whose hand was injured in the attack, is “making real progress” and intends to pursue work in medicine, Sadler is studying sports medicine and therapy, and Skarlatos “as soon as he’s finished on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ plans to get into law enforcement.”
“Whatever they do,” the president added, “they’re going to do it well. And we just wanted to say thank you to them not only for saving so many lives but also for making America look so good.”
Later Thursday, the friends were headed for the Pentagon, where Stone was being awarded the prestigious Airman’s Medal and a Purple Heart, and Army Specialist Skarlatos was in line for the Army’s Soldiers Medal.
It’s been a head-snapping month for the three twenty-somethings since their quick actions on the train transformed them into instant celebrities.
In addition to their official honours, the three have appeared in a California parade, Sadler had a turn on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, and Skarlatos is “DWTS” material on ABC.