PEORIA — A central Illinois man has received the Carnegie Medal for thwarting an attack by a knife-wielding man at a chess club session for children.
James Vernon was awarded the medal on Monday by Rep. Darin LaHood, an Illinois Republican. The honor is given to someone from the U.S. or Canada who risks their life while saving or attempting to save the lives of others, the Peoria Journal Star reported.
The Army veteran was 75 when he fought off the 19-year-old man trying to attack people at Morton Public Library in 2015. He deflected the attacker's attention away from the children and blocked him to allow everyone to escape, said Sandy Rassi, the chess club's organizer who was present during the attack and at Monday's ceremony.
"It was a supernatural, God-imposed calm that was in the room," Rassi said.
Vernon suffered cuts to two arteries and a tendon but returned to the chess club a week later to instruct. He is credited with saving the lives of 16 children and their parents who were at the event.
"He was the man who had the training, the know-how and the character," said Julia Vernon, the veteran's sister. "He was the perfect man for the job. We're just unbelievably proud of him."
James Vernon's wife, Hanna, hopes that her husband's story will inspire others to be brave in a dangerous situation in the future.
"If a 75-year-old chess geek can do this, what can I do?" she asked.
The attacker, Dustin Brown, was arrested and later sentenced to prison.