PARIS (CBS) — Three Americans and a Briton who thwarted a terrorist attack aboard a Paris-bound train received France’s highest honor Monday.

French President Francois Holland hailed them as heroes for stopping a heavily armed gunman. He presented each of them the prestigious Legion of Honor Award. He said the whole world admires their courage and cool composure.

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“It was a lesson in courage, goodwill and hope,” he said.

Spencer Stone, a U-S airman, Alek Skarlatos, from the National Guard, Anthony Sadler, a college senior and British businessman Chris Norman took down the gunman identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani.

The three Americans are childhood friends from Sacramento. The trio was traveling together in Europe.

When they spotted the gunman, Skarlatos, who recently returned from Afghanistan told his buddies, “Let’s go,” and the takedown ensued.

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“I feel our training mostly kicked in after the assailant was already subdued,” said Skarlatos. “But in the beginning it was mostly just gut instinct.”

They said luck played a role. A weak wi-fi signal encouraged them to switch train cars, a jammed AK-47 gave them a chance to act.

“Alek came up and grabbed the gun out of his hand while I put him in choke hold,” said Spencer.

“Hiding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything ad the gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer would not have gotten up,” said Sadler. “In times of terror like that, please do something, don’t just stand by and watch.”

Their split-second decision saved untold lives. There were some 500 passengers traveling on the high-speed train.

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It was an act of heroism, the French president said Monday, “that should be an inspiration to us all.”