It seemed like just seconds had passed before social media simply exploded with stories. Each one highlighted the actions of three Americans and a British citizen that stopped a potential massacre aboard a high-speed train traveling from the Netherlands to Paris.
Granted, the first reports clearly illustrated the "fog of war" when it comes with initial news accounts, but what was clear is the actions of Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Chris Norman were nothing short of heroic. They put their own lives on the line to stop Ayoub El-Khazzani before he carried out a senseless act that had the potential to claim the lives of dozens of innocent passengers whose only "crime" was that they were on that train.
Three days after these men thwarted the attack, French President François Hollande presented each of them with the Legion of Honor -- France's highest recognition. In his comments, Hollande said their actions represent what is possible in these kinds of situations, adding that their courageous actions saved lives.
I'm hoping our president extends the same level of honor to these men. However, as of Monday, I haven't seen anything come from the White House indicating whether that will happen.
Come to think of it, I'm not sure if the White House has even released a statement regarding the incident. If true, that's a huge foul and just another case where our president seems to keep dropping the ball.
During my 31 years as a photojournalist, I've had the opportunity to meet and interview a number of individuals that earned some of the nation's highest honors for their actions in combat zones around the world. In every case, these individuals never intended to risk their lives in hopes of becoming a hero or earning a medal.
Each of them simply sprang into action to save the lives of others. None of them ever thought about their own safety when putting the needs of others above their own.
The accolades they received afterward were simply a way for the nation to honor their accomplishments. After all the pomp and circumstance, most of them went back to their day-to-day lives without ever dwelling on their actions.
This brings me to a pair of issues that have really raised my blood pressure over the past few months, if not years. The first deals with the need in this country to slap the "hero" label where it simply doesn't fit.
What really set me off was all of the media coverage surrounding Caitlyn (formally Bruce) Jenner, who was on pretty much every television talk show regarding the gender-altering surgery Jenner received. Way too often, I kept hearing that making the switch from a man to a woman was "heroic."
I'm sorry, but when does going through surgery make someone a hero? Thousands, if not millions, of people go through surgery every single day, and I've never heard any of them every receiving the same rock-star treatment that Jenner received.
If I didn't know any better, I would swear that I entered another episode of The Twilight Zone. However, Rod Serling was nowhere to be seen (I checked).
I've pretty much had it up to my ears with some across this country who pin the "hero" title on just about anything that seems out of the ordinary. I swear that if they had their way, they would hand out these hero awards the same way that children in pee wee baseball receive trophies for just participating.
Let's get one thing straight: A person who goes in and chooses to have surgery to change their gender isn't a hero. What that represents is a lifestyle change and nothing more.
Simply put, a true hero doesn't call attention to themselves.
This brings me to my next issue that has really been bothering me for a number of years -- the growing tide of radical terrorism that continues to spill out of the Middle East into places across Europe and the United States.
Let me be absolutely clear: El-Khazzani is a coward whose actions on that train were in no way honorable nor were they "God's work." I sincerely hope he receives everything he deserves: A fair trial and a very stiff sentence where he will never again have any contact with the outside world. I'd make his last days on Earth a living Hell.
Unfortunately, there are many out there that strongly support what El-Khazzani tried to commit -- the mass slaughter of innocent civilians in the name of radical Islam. They feel that killing innocent men, women and children is doing God's work.
I'm sorry, but did I suddenly jump back into the Twilight Zone once again?
Let me see if I can clarify the difference between a legitimate target and ones that are off limits.
Legitimate target: An armed combatant in an established combat zone or any combat ship, aircraft, armored vehicle or military installation involved in active hostilities.
Not legitimate targets: A crowded shopping mall, sports stadium, passenger train, bus or aircraft or other locations where civilians are gathered. I normally include places of worship in this list, although there are documented cases where these locations were sometimes used as weapons depots and staging grounds to conduct attacks (that makes them legitimate targets in my book).
To the four men that selflessly put themselves in harm's way and saved the lives of so many innocent people, I offer my personal thanks and gratitude.
To the piece of phlegm that tried to conduct that attack -- a person who doesn't even deserve to have their name in print -- may you receive the harshest punishment imaginable, and may God have mercy on your corrupt soul.
-- Brian S. Orban