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Americans receive France's highest honor for averting 'veritable carnage'

French President François Hollande awarded three Americans and a Briton with France's highest honor for their role in subduing a gunman, calling their act 'a source of inspiration.'

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From the left, British businessman Chris Norman, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, French President Francois Hollande, US Airman Spencer Stone, and Alek Skarlatos, a US National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, pose at the Elysee Palace, Monday in Paris. Mr. Hollande pinned the Legion of Honor medal on the three Americans in recognition of their efforts to subdue a gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. The British businessman also jumped into the fray.

Michel Euler/AP

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French President François Hollande on Monday awarded three Americans and a Briton who helped disarm an attacker on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris with France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor.

As he was presenting the men with the medals, Mr. Hollande said that all four men prevented carnage on the train that was carrying 500 passengers, and were an example of the need for action when faced with terrorism, the Associated Press reported.

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"Since Friday, the entire world admires your courage, your sangfroid, your spirit of solidarity,” Hollande said. “This is what allowed you to with bare hands – your bare hands – subdue an armed man. This must be an example for all, and a source of inspiration.”

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Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their friend Anthony Sadler, overpowered a gunman on board a high-speed train on Friday. Chris Norman, a British consultant who lives in France, helped to restrain the attacker after he was tackled.

The gunman, has been identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani. His lawyer said Sunday the man only intended to rob people on board because he was hungry, and is "dumbfounded" at having been taken for an Islamist militant.

But Mr. Skarlatos doubts that. "It doesn't take eight magazines to rob a train," Skarlatos told Reuters. "The guy had a lot of ammo. His intentions seemed pretty clear." The gunman was armed with a box cutter, a pistol, and a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.

Mr. Stone said Monday that a French man who was the first person that tried to stop the gunman “deserves a lot of the credit.” The name of the French citizen has not been disclosed.

He also thanked the doctors who reattached his thumb, which was almost severed by the gunman.

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During the Monday ceremony Hollande mentioned that even though Stone and Mr. Skarlatos were soldiers, “on Friday you were simply passengers. You behaved as soldiers but also as responsible men."

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"Faced with the evil called terrorism there is a good, that's humanity. You are the incarnation of that," Hollande told the four men.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.