Two American servicemen who disarmed a suspected terrorist on a Paris-bound train are “heroes, plain and simple,” a U.S. Air Force commander said Wednesday, as one of them said he was “humbled” by the outpouring of public support.
Airman Spencer Stone, who is recovering from injuries at the USAF's Ramstein base in Germany, was stabbed as he overpowered the heavily-armed attacker but is recovering from his wounds and will return to service within months, his unit commander said.
Stone issued a statement thanking medics for doing “an awesome job” but downplayed his actions, saying: “I am humbled with the attention this story has drawn. I think everyone in my situation would have done the same thing.”
However, his unit commander, Lt. Col. Richard Smith, said Stone had exemplified one of the core values of the Air Force.
“While he and the others are eager to downplay the importance of that event, I have to tell you that in all my years of service, [it] is without a doubt one of the purest examples of 'service before self' that I’ve ever seen,” he told reporters.
“I think in Airman Stone’s opinion the event is over and it’s time to move on. As his commander I totally non-concur with that assessment. There are a lot of men and women who got off that train last Friday and went home to their friends and families because of the actions they took. They are heroes, plain and simple.”
Stone was traveling from Amsterdam when prosecutors say Morocco-born Ayoub El-Khazzani emerged from a restroom carrying an assault rifle, a Lugar pistol and at least 270 bullets.
Khazzani, 25, was tackled and tied up by Stone and his friends, Oregon National Guardsman Aleksander Skarlatos and college student Anthony Sadler.
Smith said Stone was “recovering” and “in good spirits,” adding: “Despite the severity of his injuries, in the coming months he’ll be able to return to full duty.”
“He’s young, he’s enthusiastic, he’s smart and he’s eager,” Smith said.
"He knew that his comrades would be behind him"
Asked by reporters if Stone was known as “Captain America” in his unit, Smith replied that he had “never heard” that nickname being used.
“He is good-natured, has a good heart about him,” Smith said. “The leadership team here, we know him just because he is a larger than life presence in the room. I have never heard ‘Captain America’ [but] I think we would all agree if you were looking for a nickname that’s a good one. It sounds like a proper nickname for him.”
He added that Stone's "presence of mind" had been "pretty impressive."
"He want us to know that he did what he did because he knew that his comrades would be behind him," Smith said. "That’s what gave him the confidence to act."