WASHINGTON — This time, they suited up.
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 honor 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.”
After visiting the White House, the three were off to the Pentagon to pick up more honors.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James presented Stone with the Purple Heart in recognition of the injuries he suffered, and he also received 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.
Carter said their rallying cry recalled the stirring words of those aboard the hijacked airliner on 9/11 who shouted, “Let’s roll,” before charging the cockpit and forcing the plane to crash in a Pennsylvania field before it could reach its intended target.
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 honors, 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.
AP National Security Writer Robert Bob Burns contributed to this report.
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