ROSEBURG, Ore. (KOIN) — Hometown hero Alek Skarlatos received France’s highest medal, the Legion of Honor, for his role in subduing an armed gunman with possible terrorist ties inside a packed train in France.
Skarlatos, the 22-year-old Oregon National Guardsman from Roseburg, was awarded the medal along with US Airman Spencer Stone, their friend Anthony Sadler and British businessman Chris Norman.
French President Francois Hollande pinned the Legion of Honor medal on the men.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared Skarlatos was the pride of Oregon.
His family and friends
In a brief phone conversation with KOIN 6 News, Skarlatos’ father said they’ve been overwhelmed by media requests and have barely been able to sleep.
Family friend Mike Emmanuil said it has been overwhelming.
“It’s a good overwhelming because he’s safe and in pretty good hands,” he told KOIN 6 News, adding he’s known Alek since he was 13.
“Awesome kid. It’s one of those kids where you meet him and know he is going to be a good person to have around when you need him. He just came back from deployment and that speaks volumes of his character.”
Emmanuil said he wasn’t surprised Alek did what he did – and he doesn’t think his family was surprised, either.
“It’s incredible. I mean, we’re very proud of him, very proud of what these guys did,” he said. “To go on vacation and end up doing something like that is just incredible. The timing, the intervention. We’re very proud of him, all 3 guys.”
His parents, Emmanuil said, are very happy but want to see him come back as soon as possible.
“He talked to them (on the phone) before everything came out on the news, so they were a little more prepared. I don’t think anyone understood the scope of how big this is.”
Emmanuil summed up the way he, the community of Roseburg, the state of Oregon and the United States feel.
“We’re very happy to have him as a member of our community and very happy to know him.”
Five levels of Honor
Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler and Norman were all awarded the lowest grade — “Knight” — of the Legion of Honor, which is divided into five divisions.
The other four in increasing importance is “Officer,” ”Commander,” ”Grand Officer,” and, the highest, the “Grand Cross,” which features a flamboyant red sash and a ruby badge.
There is technically a sixth division, the “Grand Master,” made up of just one person: President Francois Hollande. All French presidents become “Grand Masters” to symbolize their status as head of the legion.
Dress the part
The vast majority of recipients of the honor dress to the occasion — with men appearing in a suit and tie to be decorated by France’s president for the once-in-a-lifetime event.
Monday’s ceremony in Paris’ Elysee Palace was a blinding exception, with social media lighting up about Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler receiving the award in unbuttoned polo shirts and khaki pants.
The Associated Press contributed to this report