Airman Hero on Train Attack: 'I'm Not Going to Leave Everyone to Die'

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone meets Chief Master Sgt. Phillip Easton, 86th Airlift Wing command chief, upon his arrival to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 24. 2015. (Sara Keller/U.S. Air Force)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone meets Chief Master Sgt. Phillip Easton, 86th Airlift Wing command chief, upon his arrival to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Aug. 24. 2015. (Sara Keller/U.S. Air Force)

The U.S. airman who charged a gunman on an Amsterdam-to-Paris train believed that might be his last act in this world, but said there was no other option.

"I'm not going to run away. I'm not going to leave everyone to die," Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone told reporters Tuesday at the Air and Space Conference outside Washington, D.C. "I would rather die trying than sit back and watch everyone get slaughtered."

Stone and two childhood friends, Oregon National Guard Spc. Alek Skarlatos and civilian Anthony Sadler, charged an AK-47-wielding gunman Aug. 21 on the train in Europe, where they were vacationing. The three were immediately lauded as heroes in France and President François Hollande awarded them the French Legion of Honor.

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Stone, who was wounded in taking down the terrorist, will be awarded the Purple Heart and the Airman's Medal, an award for heroism not related to combat, in a ceremony Thursday at the Pentagon. He will also be promoted to staff sergeant, skipping a rank, Air Force Chief of Staff Mark Welsh announced at the conference.

What's more, Stone may be in line for a combat valor decoration.

If French authorities conclude the train attack was a terrorist-related event, Welsh said Stone's actions will be looked at again for recognition of combat valor based on the precedent set by the 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood, Texas.

In that incident, Army Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire on fellow soldiers and civilians, killing 13 and wounding more than 30. Hasan admitted that he was influenced by the late Anwar Awlaki, chief propagandist for al Qaida. The Army denied Purple Hearts to Hasan's victims but Congress last year passed legislation making the soldiers eligible for the medal and his civilian victims eligible for the Defense of Freedom Medal.

Stone and his friends were on vacation when the gunman, who French officials have identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani, opened fire.

The three, all from California, were honored in a parade in Sacramento. Stone also was given a new Chevrolet Camaro since returning home, and NBC journalist and talk show host Meredith Vieira presented him with a pair of roundtrip tickets to Paris and a five-night's stay at a hotel.

Though originally scheduled for re-assignment to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, Stone said the Air Force granted his request to return to Travis Air Force Base, California, where he previously was assigned at the base hospital.

"I know everyone at the hospital ... my brother is on the CHP [California Highway Patrol], so they offered a lot of security for me and my family," he told reporters. Travis also puts him closer to the friends with whom he took down the gunman, he said.

He said he expects to see them again in Paris for the trial of the gunman.

"I'm assuming [I'll be there]. I don't really know how the French court system works, but I would think I would have to go back," he said.

--Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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