(ABC News) — U.S. serviceman Alek Skarlatos, who helped stop a gunman on a Paris-bound train last week, said his first thought was “just trying not to die.”
Recalling on “Good Morning America” today what ran though his mind when he first saw the gunman and realized his life was in danger, Skarlatos said, “I immediately recognized what was happening, and I just thought, ‘There is just no way. There is no way this is happening right now.’”
“Then we just acted, and I didn’t have another conscious thought for the next two minutes.”
Skarlatos, 22, an Army National Guardsman assigned to an infantry unit in Roseburg, Oregon, was on vacation in Europe with his friends after a tour in Afghanistan. Skarlatos, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, 23, of Carmichael, California, and Anthony Sadler, 23, a senior at Sacramento State University in California, were among the train passengers last Friday when they helped stop a man armed with guns and a box cutter who had started firing.
Skarlatos said as he, Salder, Stone and British businessman Chris Norman worked together to subdue the gunman, “Everybody behind the terrorist just ran back about two or three cars. And then everybody in our train car either helped out in some way or just kind of sat there in shock.”
Skarlatos described his initial decision to jump in and help as a “gut reaction,” noting that his military training didn’t kick in until later.
“We were just acting on adrenaline and doing what we had to do to survive,” he said.
“Once we were able to think again, that was kind of when training kicked in, but before that, we were just trying not to die.”
After the train was stopped and the gunman was in custody, he said the magnitude of the event still hadn’t hit him.
“I thought they would just question us and then put us on the next train to Paris,” Skarlatos said. “I didn’t think it was going to be this big at all.”
And when Skarlatos finally returned to the United States this week, he was shocked to see law enforcement officers at the airport lining up to shake his hand.
“I was so grateful to everybody that showed up for that. That was just amazing,” he said. “That many law enforcement officers showing up … it meant a lot to me.”
While Skarlatos and Sadler escaped the attack without injury, their friend Stone underwent surgery to reattach his thumb after the gunman slashed him with the box cutter. Stone was released from a French hospital then taken to Germany for further medical treatment.
“He’s still stuck in Ramstein, but he’s doing great,” Skarlatos said today of Stone. “He’s in high spirits. He just couldn’t be here today, unfortunately.”
Skarlatos doesn’t know what’s next for him, but said, “I’m probably going to go back to Germany and hang out with Spencer.”