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Spencer Stone, who played a crucial role in thwarting an attack by a gunman on a train bound for Paris and survived a stabbing outside a California bar, tells TODAY's Matt Lauer he's grateful a year filled with several life-threatening situations is coming to an end.
"It's winding down, hopefully," Stone told Matt Lauer on TODAY.
The Air Force staff sergeant was joined on TODAY by Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, as he receives the USO's prestigious George Van Cleave Military Leadership Award for his valor during the Paris train ordeal on August 21.
Stone said he replays the attack in his mind "every day, for sure."
"There's so many other things that could've gone wrong, and if one of them did, it would've been a totally different situation,'' he said. "Mostly it comes to mind even more given the recent attacks in Paris. My heart really goes out to France for that. That really brought up memories."
Stone later suffered life-threatening injuries in an unrelated attack at a bar in October.
"They actually called out the homicide team originally because they didn't think I was going to make it,'' Stone said about the incident at the bar. "I can't thank the UC-Davis (Hospital) staff enough for saving my life."
During the attack on the train, Stone, 23, tackled and choked Moroccan-born Ayoub El-Khazzani, who was carrying a knife, a Luger pistol and at least 270 bullets in addition to an AK-47, according to prosecutors. In the midst of the struggle, Stone was slashed by El-Khazzani with a box cutter on his head, neck and arm, cutting one of his fingers to the bone.
"What happened on the train that day could have been a catastrophe for many, many people,'' James told Lauer. "When there's sudden danger, most of us the instinct is to flee, to hunker down, to get away...from the firing of guns, but Spencer Stone and his two friends that day, they had the opposite instinct. They went toward the fire, and because of their actions, everybody on that train went home to their families."
While dealing with his own injuries, Stone also helped save the life of fellow passenger Mark Moogalian, 51, a French-American professor who was shot in the shoulder and collarbone by El-Khazzani. Stone applied pressure to his wound to slow the bleeding and help Moogalian remain calm until paramedics arrived.
Stone and two friends who were with him on the train for a vacation, college student Anthony Sadler and Oregon National Guardsman Aleksander Skarlatos, were awarded France's highest honor, the Legion d'Honneur, by French President Francois Hollande for their actions in stopping the attack. Stone also was awarded an Airman's Medal by the Air Force for heroism "under conditions other than those of actual conflict with an enemy." He also has been promoted twice, earning the rank of staff sergeant.
On October 8, Stone suffered a life-threatening injuries when he was stabbed multiple times outside a bar in Sacramento, California. A fight broke out after a man started taking cell phone video of women who were with Stone's group, according to authorities.
Stone was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center and had to undergo open heart surgery after suffering a punctured heart, liver and lung, spending a week in the hospital to recover. James Tran, 28, was charged with attempted murder on Nov. 4 for the attack.
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