A True American Hero

Spencer Stone’s Incredible Story Highlights Values Emphasis Week

It’s natural to wonder if Spencer Stone is real.

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Everything about him is such a perfect fit for a Hollywood script. His blond hair, chiseled physique, and easy smile give him the consummate matinee-idol good looks. His “aw shucks” demeanor makes him as likeable as the boy next door. Even his name seems custom-made for a marquee.

In a world of blurred lines between reality and fiction, Stone adds to the confusion by playing himself in a recent Hollywood movie, “The 15:17 to Paris,” which tells the story of his heroic actions to thwart a terrorist attack on a train speeding through the French countryside in 2015.In a world of blurred lines between reality and fiction, Stone adds to the confusion by playing himself in a recent Hollywood movie, “The 15:17 to Paris,” which tells the story of his heroic actions to thwart a terrorist attack on a train speeding through the French countryside in 2015.

Rest assured, Spencer Stone is real. He is a true American hero. And for the hundreds of students, staff, and community members who gathered inside Northwood’s Riepma Arena for Stone’s appearance as part of Values Emphasis Week, that reality came with a message that no mere movie character could deliver.

I think we all have a purpose for our lives, but we don’t know what it is,” Stone told the crowd. “In reality, your moment might be right around the corner.

The power of Stone’s message is heightened by his own story, which he tells in a simple but effective way.

Stone was born and raised in Sacramento, California. He didn’t go to college. (“All my friends took the SATs, and I said, “Wait, when were the SATs?’ ”) Instead, he enlisted in the Air Force and eventually was assigned to Lajes Air Base on the remote Azore Islands, about 1,000 miles west of Portugal. When his turn came to go on leave, he set up a trip around Europe with two of his childhood friends, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos. That’s how the three of them ended up seated on the train when an ISIS terrorist pulled out an AK-47 automatic assault rifle.

The story of what happened on that train is well known, but it’s still fascinating to hear Stone tell it, especially the little details that reinforce the almost unbelievable nature of the whole event.

Stone was napping when the first shot was fired, and awoke to hear crashing glass and see an employee of the train sprinting down the aisle.

I looked up to see a man walking down the aisle with an AK-47. I knew immediately what he was there to do. I thought I might as well take the chance while I’ve got it, and at least my family will know that I went out like a man

As Stone rushed toward him, the terrorist aimed the AK-47 and pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. Investigators said the first round had a bad primer, preventing it from firing and blocking the way for any more rounds to reach the firing chamber. It was, in other words, a magic bullet. “It doesn’t happen very often,” Stone said in casual understatement. “Like, one in every 10,000.”

Stone struggled with the terrorist, employing martial arts training he had received through the years. Eventually, Stone was able to “choke him out” from behind while his friends subdued the terrorist.

Only then did Stone realize he had been stabbed several times. “The adrenaline was flowing so much that I never even felt it.”

Despite his own injuries, Stone rushed to help Mark Moogalian, an American living in France who had been shot earlier in the attack and was now bleeding profusely on the floor of the train car. Employing his medical training, Stone reached into Moogalian’s wound and stopped the bleeding.

When the train arrived at the next station, the terrorist was arrested, medical care was successfully given to everyone injured, and life returned to normal. But for Stone, it was a new normal. He was honored by French President François Hollande and U.S. President Barack Obama. Stone and his friends wrote a book about their experiences. He set off on a weeks-long media tour. “Jimmie Kimmel gave me a car,” he said with some amazement.

The rest, as they say in Hollywood, is history. The book was published, and legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood agreed to make it into the recently released movie “The 15:17 to Paris.” Eastwood made the courageous decision to have Stone, his two friends and others who were on the train play themselves in the movie.

Some critics thought the lack of acting skills among the group hurt the quality of the movie, but even the staunchest critics acknowledged the heroism of the group that day on the train. And there were no critics to be found in Riepma Arena, as young and old alike lined up to meet “the real Spencer Stone."

Roll the credits.

Watch the movie trailer