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How an elderly vet saved 16 children from attack in Illinois library

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Robert Downen / Pekin Daily Times / AP

(Read caption) James Vernon, seen here at his home in Morton, Ill., on Oct. 15, is recovering from injuries suffered when he fought off a knife-wielding man who threatened children at a central Illinois library.

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An elderly Army veteran was leading a chess club at a public library in Morton, Ill., when a man burst into the room holding two hunting knives and threatening the roomful of children.

In dramatic move, James Vernon employed his Army knife-fight training to stop him.

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"He actually ran into the room yelling, ‘I’m going to kill some people!; " Mr. Vernon told the Pekin Daily Times.

The septuagenarian confronted the 19-year-old attacker, Dustin Brown, as the children hid under tables.

"I tried to settle him down," Vernon told the Daily Times. "I didn’t [succeed], but I did deflect his attention."

"I said, 'This can't be happening,' " Vernon told the Associated Press

His second thought: "I can't let this happen."

The 16 children, aged between 7 and 13, escaped the room after Vernon put himself between Brown and the door. “I gave them the cue to get the heck out of there, and, boy, they did that! Quick, like rabbits,” Vernon said.

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Mr. Brown slashed the knife at Vernon, who blocked the blade with his left hand.

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"I should have hit his wrist," Vernon told the Daily Times. "That’s how you’re trained, but it’s been half a century."

"I failed my mission to kill everyone," Brown reportedly told police after his arrest.

Brown, who was out on bail in connection with a child pornography case, is now being held on $800,000 bond pending a Nov. 5 court appearance. He’s charged with attempted murder, armed violence, and aggravated battery.

Nearly two weeks ago, fellow Army veteran Chris Mintz was hailed as a hero after he was shot five times while protecting his classmates during a shooting rampage at an Oregon college.

In a Facebook post, Mr. Mintz recalled the events of the day that left nine of his classmates dead and nine more injured.

Mintz said he warned students in the library, running through the aisles and shouting at them. He then ran back towards the campus's Snyder Hall, urging students to run for their lives.

"All of a sudden, the shooter opened the classroom door beside the door to my left, he leaned half of his torso out and started shooting as I turned toward him," Mintz wrote. "He was so nonchalant through it all, like he was playing a video game and showed no emotion. The shots knocked me to the ground and felt like a truck hit me."

"He leaned further out of the classroom and tried to shoot my phone," Mintz wrote. "I yelled 'It's my kid's birthday, man.' He pointed the gun right at my face and then he retreated back into the class. I’m still confused at why he didn’t shoot me again."

Nor is heroism limited to veterans. In February, Brady Olsen, an Advanced Placement government and civics teacher, tackled a high school student after he fired two shots at North Thurston High School in Lacey, Wash.

"No one, including myself, can prepare for a situation like this, so I'm very thankful that we're all OK. As always, students come first and today was no different," Mr. Olson said in a statement.

Vernon, the Army vet turned chess club leader, says he learned a comforting lesson from his experience: "Sometimes old guys aren't as easy of a target as you may think."

But he noted that the situation could have had a much different outcome if Brown had brought a gun instead of a knife to the library. "It would’ve been a different story," Vernon said.