American Serviceman Alek Skarlatos on Stopping Train Attack: 'Everything's Been Like a Dream'

Alek Skarlatos said he's still processing what happened on board the train.

ByABC News
August 24, 2015, 7:09 PM

— -- American serviceman Alek Skarlatos, who helped stop a gunman on a Paris-bound train last week, is still "processing what happened on the train in the first place," he told ABC News today.

Skarlatos, 22, an Army National Guardsman assigned to an infantry unit in Roseburg, Oregon, was on vacation in Europe with his friends after a tour in Afghanistan. Skarlatos, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, 23, of Carmichael, California, and Anthony Sadler, 23, a senior at Sacramento State University in California, were among the train passengers who stopped a man armed with an automatic rifle and a box cutter who had started firing.

At first, Skarlatos said, he didn't realize the magnitude of his involvement in stopping the gunman.

"I thought they [the police] were going to release us right after we got questioned. But that didn't happen," Skarlatos told ABC News via FaceTime.

French President Francois Hollande awards U.S. Airman Spencer Stone while Alek Skarlatos applauds at the Elysee Palace, Aug.24, 2015 in Paris.

Today, Skarlatos, Sadler, Stone and British businessman Chris Norman, who also helped subdue the gunman, received France’s highest medal at the Elysee Palace, making them Chevalier, knights of the Legion of Honour.

French President Francois Hollande said the men showed "that faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You also gave a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope." Two other passengers, American Mark Moogalian and another person who wished to remain anonymous, will reportedly be honored at a later time.

"It's a huge honor and I feel very humbled by it," Skarlatos said. "But I just haven't really had time to process much."

Skarlatos also thanked the people of France, the French police and government and the American embassy for their support.

"Everything's been like a dream," he said.

When the gunman fired on board the train, Stone tackled the attacker to the ground, according to Sadler. As Sadler, Skarlatos and Norman jumped in to hold him down, the attacker pulled out a box cutter and slashed Stone, according to Sadler.

Stone said he choked the attacker into unconsciousness while Skarlatos hit him in the head. Once the gunman was hogtied on the floor, Stone went to help another passenger who was also injured.

"Spencer pretty much saved the day on that one," Skarlatos said of his friend's role in stopping the attack. "I just can't say enough about Spencer."

Skarlatos and Sadler escaped without injury, but Stone underwent surgery to reattach his thumb after the gunman slashed him with the box cutter. Stone was released from the hospital Saturday.

Skarlatos said they've been in "very high spirits" since Stone's release from the hospital.

"We've been together ever since," Skarlatos said. "He [Stone] should be just fine."

When asked his message to other people in a situation like this, Skarlatos said, "Anthony put it best ... Just do something. You're probably going to die anyway, you might as well give it a shot."

"We just got extremely lucky, honestly. That's probably the only reason we're here," Skarlatos said.

Alek's father, Emanuel Skarlatos, described him as a "strong kid in so many ways -- physically and emotionally."

The young men had almost stayed in Amsterdam another night, but fortunately for the other passengers, Emanuel Skarlatos said, the friends took that train bound for Paris.

"People are alive because of them," he said.