Carmichael native Spencer Stone to receive Purple Heart for train heroism

Alek Skarlatos, left, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler during the parade in Sacramento, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015.
Alek Skarlatos, left, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler during the parade in Sacramento, Friday, Sept. 11, 2015. The Sacramento Bee

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will personally hang the Purple Heart around the neck of Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, the Carmichael native hailed as a hero for having helped thwart a gunman’s rampage on a French train last month.

In addition to receiving the military medal for combat wounds, Stone will be promoted two ranks, bypassing the level of senior airman to reach staff sergeant, an upgrade worth an extra $380 a month in pay. The promotion is to take effect by November.

Carter and Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will honor Stone along with his childhood Sacramento-area friends, Oregon National Guard Spc. Alex Skarlatos and civilian Anthony Sadler, in a ceremony Thursday afternoon in the central courtyard of the Pentagon.

The three friends tackled, disarmed and bound a Moroccan man armed with an AK-47, a Luger pistol and a box cutter on Aug. 21 after he started shooting on a train headed for Paris. Stone’s thumb was nearly severed and he was stabbed in the neck during the struggle.

Stone will receive the Airman’s Medal and the Purple Heart; Skarlatos will receive the Soldier’s Medal; and Sadler will receive the Medal of Valor, the Pentagon’s highest award for civilians.

Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler have already been given France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor, and received a hero’s parade in Sacramento on Sept. 11.

Pentagon officials originally said Stone did not qualify for the Purple Heart because his injuries were not combat-related, but Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James overruled that decision after the French government classified the train assault as a terrorist attack.

Stone “personified (Air Force) values in an extremely heroic fashion when he stopped evil on a French train three weeks ago,” James told the national convention of the Air Force Association.

The alleged gunman, Ayoub El-Khazzani, faces multiple terrorism charges in France of attempted murder, weapons possession and conspiracy.

James said Stone would attend the AFA convention later this week. She noted that she had watched the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show on which Stone was given a new car.

“Spencer Stone will not have any difficulty getting here to Washington because he was just awarded a brand new Camaro,” James said. “So he’s got a sweet, new ride to get him here to Washington, D.C.”

The 2015 Defense Authorization Act expanded Purple Heart eligibility to include service members killed or wounded in attacks by foreign terrorist organizations.

There had been previous precedents for such an honor.

The 54 service members killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon received Purple Hearts. Ninety civilian employees who died that day received the Defense of Freedom Medal.

Purple Hearts were belatedly awarded to military members who were killed or wounded in the Nov. 5, 2009, attack at Fort Hood, Texas, where Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and injured 31 others. Hasan’s August 2013 court-martial, which sentenced him to death, revealed his jihadist ties. The Pentagon initially classified his crime as an act of workplace violence, but under pressure from members of Congress and families of the victims, the military members who were wounded or killed by Hasan later received Purple Hearts.