Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, hailed as a hero around the world for helping stop a gunman's planned rampage on a train in France last month, will receive the Purple Heart, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said Monday.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter will preside over the award ceremony Thursday at which Stone will receive the Purple Heart, as well as the Airman's Medal, James said at her keynote address at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference. The Air Force had previously announced Stone would receive the Airman's Medal, which is the Air Force's highest noncombat award.
Stone's friend, Army Spc. Alek Skarlatos of the Oregon National Guard, will also be honored in the Pentagon's center courtyard Thursday.
Stone, Skarlatos and their friend Anthony Sadler were on vacation Aug. 21 when they subdued, disarmed and hogtied a heavily armed gunman on a train heading from Amsterdam to Paris. The gunman, who was armed with an AK-47, a Luger and a box cutter, stabbed Stone during the melee, sending him to the hospital. France awarded all three Americans the Legion of Merit within days of the attack.
Stone "personified [Air Force] values in an extremely heroic fashion when he stopped evil on a French train three weeks ago," James said.
James said Stone will appear at the AFA conference, as well as other events around Washington later this week.
Last month, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Stone was not eligible for other valor awards such as the Bronze Star with "V" or the Silver Star because his bravery was not during combat. But Welsh left open the possibility of awarding him the Purple Heart, if the attack was determined to be a terrorist attack. Welsh said that at the time the precedent set by awarding the Purple Heart victims of the 2009 Fort Hood attack could allow Stone to receive the same award.
Purple Hearts are typically awarded only for combat actions. But the 2015 Defense Authorization Act extended eligibility for the Purple Heart to service members killed or wounded in attacks by foreign terrorist organizations.
Doug Sterner, curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, said last month that awarding Stone the Purple Heart — because it is almost always considered a combat medal — could open the door to higher valor awards.
In her speech, James joked about the instant celebrity Stone's bravery brought him — including an appearance on the Jimmy Kimmel Live talk show, in which Stone received a new sports car.
"In case you missed it, let me assure you, because I watched Jimmy Kimmel the other night, 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."
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.