EUGENE, Ore. - Edgar Peara believed the path to peace could start with one person's actions.
"I believed that whether the world moves towards peace unitedly, that an individual can move towards peace by himself or herself," the veteran of World War II said in 2011.
In the midst of waging war, the combat engineer recalled promoting peace.
"When I was asked to remove the resistance in Algeria, rather than expecting the people to resist, I took off my helmet, left my pistol behind, told the men to follow me and not to fire unless fired on," Peara said in 2011 after receiving the French Legion of Honor for his service in World War II. "Then I went house to house, knocked on doors and said, 'We come in peace. We are here only to have you surrender arms and then we will move on.'
"By coming in peace," he said, "no one resisted us."
The veteran of invasions of Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Salerno, Normandy and Pacific islands in World War II who spent the rest of his life promoting peace died Saturday in Eugene.
Peara was cleaning up brush in his yard at the time of his death, said friend James Schmidt.
"He kind of went being Edgar," Schmidt said. "There's no other way you can picture him dying except being active and working at something that he wanted to work on."
By the time he received the France's highest military honor in 2011, Peara had lived a life dedicated to spreading peace.
"Taking what he learned from his experiences in war, Edgar dedicated himself to a life of internal peace and became a staunch advocate of greater peace for all humanity," Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon told the U.S. Senate on April 14, 2011. "He used his GI Bill to train for ordination as a Christian Science practitioner. During the Korean war, Edgar served as a Christian Science chaplain at the U.S. Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, Illinois. After this duty he went on to become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Edgar has worked diligently to help others find the same peace he discovered in his own heart and to help all mankind achieve greater peace between neighbors and nations.
"As an Oregonian, I could not be more proud of Edgar, his wonderful story, and his life’s work," Wyden said. "He truly is a hero and embodies the best of our State. As our Nation continues to struggle in conflicts overseas, Edgar serves as a testament to the belief that sometimes restraint is as powerful as force in times of war."
His wartime service included invasions in both the European and Pacific theaters. It was only after he'd been sent to the Pacific that the U.S. started exempting troops who had served in Europe from also serving in the Pacific, Schmidt said.
"We know what he experienced, not only in the European theater but he was shipped off to the South Pacific," said Schmidt, a Vietnam veteran who served with the 101st Airborne in 1971-72. "His resume is just so astounding - and almost at the point if you sat down to write it as fiction, you'd say, 'No, that's too much'."
Peara was a combat engineer with the 531 Amphibious Combat Regiment of the 1st Engineer Amphibious Combat Brigade. His unit specialized in supporting
large amphibious invasions, clearing the way for the infantry and keeping the Army on the move.
More than 65 years later, that service earned him France's highest military honor.
French Deputy Consul Madame Corinne Pereira flew in to award Peara with the French Legion of Honor.
"More than 60 years ago, you rescued people you didn't even know," she said. "But you can be sure that those people whom you didn't know have not forgotten. Their children and grandchildren - I am one of them - have not forgotten and will never forget."
Friends and family packed Eugene's City Council Chambers for the ceremony in 2011.
"Their goodness, their love of peace, inspires my gratitude and affection," Peara said at the ceremony.
The decorated war hero came with a message of peace.
"Peace is possible," he said. "It takes the unselfish, the laborious efforts of humanity. But it can happen."
Edgar Peara describes his service in World War II