Soldier and airman who stopped terrorist attack on train naturalized as French citizens
By VINCENT MOLESKI AND MICHAEL MCGOUGH | The Sacramento Bee | Published: February 1, 2019
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Two military veterans and their friend who helped prevent a 2015 terrorist attack on a train in France were honored Thursday with a naturalization ceremony, celebrating the French citizenship they received a few months ago.
Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone were aboard an August 2015 Thalys train car bound for Paris when an assailant’s assault rifle jammed as he attempted to open fire. The trio were among a handful of passengers who helped tackle and subdue the man, preventing the attack.
Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens, the consul general of France in San Francisco, awarded the three men their naturalization paperwork, including French birth certificates, in midtown Sacramento at the Alliance Française. They received citizenship Sept. 20 of last year, San Francisco French consulate spokesman Matthias Carette said.
France allows dual citizenship, but under normal circumstances, a resident must live in France for five continuous years before they can be naturalized.
“Our nation will be enriched by your strength, your culture and your personal experiences,” Lebrun-Damiens said. “Today, France is proud to welcome you into its rich history.”
Stone and Skarlatos were enlisted in the Air Force and Army, respectively, at the time of the attack. President Barack Obama in 2015 honored Stone with an Airman’s Medal and Purple Heart, and Skarlatos with the U.S. Army’s Soldier’s Medal.
The three men have been back to visit France since stopping the terrorist attack and all said they were honored to be granted dual citizenship.
Stone said it was an amazing feeling to be recognized with dual citizenship, which could open up the opportunity to possibly live in Europe in the future.
“We feel a certain connection with France,” Stone said. “It’s an honor that they’re opening their arms to us like that.”
Sadler said he never would have thought he could become a dual citizen in any country, so for him, being acknowledged by France was incredible.
“Just having the opportunity to (become a citizen) after feeling so close to the people of France after what we took part in there and the few times we’ve been back — it’s just a humbling experience and I’m really thankful for it and I know the other guys feel the same way too,” Sadler said.
The three men said they will be beefing up on their French now that they’ve been naturalized as citizens. Skarlatos said he’d like to move to France for a couple of months to better learn the language.
“It’s just an incredible honor and we’re excited to use our French passports and travel around the (European Union) freely,” Skarlatos said.
The trio, all in their early 20s at the time of the incident, were honored heroes upon their return to the U.S. Then-French President Francois Hollande awarded all three with the Legion of Honour.
Skarlatos said although many people look up to them for their actions in 2015, he does not consider himself a hero. But the pressure of being a role model pushes him to live a better life and provide a positive example for others.
Stone said it was difficult for him to grapple with being looked up to by so many but to him it is a privilege that he does not take lightly.
“We’ve been given a platform to really help change other people’s lives in ways we don’t even really know yet,” Stone said. “It’s just an honor to be in the position that we are.”
The three men wrote a memoir, “The 15:17 to Paris,” which was adapted into a 2018 movie of the same name, directed by Clint Eastwood. The film featured Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone playing themselves.
Sadler was a senior at Sacramento State at the time of the attack. He and Stone were born up in Sacramento; Skarlatos was born in Castro Valley. They had been friends since meeting at Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks.
“We appreciate the love from Sacramento because we know that’s where our story originates and that’s kind of what made us into the people that we are,” Sadler said. “The love from Sacramento and the responsibility of people looking up to you — we just embrace it and we want to do right by it, really.”