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 The "Empire" smiles on Veterans For Peace 
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Location: Eugene, Oregon
Post The "Empire" smiles on Veterans For Peace
Overdue honor
A salute to one man’s wartime work, pacifism
By Lauren Fox

The Register-Guard

Published: Midnight, April 12, 2011

Dressed in his World War II uniform, Edgar Peara salutes the colors during the dedication of the Hero’s Wall inside the Gateway Mall last Veteran’s Day. On Thursday, Peara will be the honoree.

Eighty-nine-year-old Edgar Peara is what one might call a quiet hero — the kind who volunteers most every day for one cause or another, doing everything from planting trees in Alton Baker Park to delivering Meals on Wheels for shut-ins.

But Peara’s service to the Allied troops during World War II makes him an internationally recognized hero, too.

“We kind of look at Edgar in awe,” said Jim Schmidt, president of Eugene’s Veterans for Peace chapter. “ I don’t know how someone half his age would keep his schedule. When you hear about all of the places he was during the war, it is astonishing that he survived World War II and is here in the first place.”

Peara was an officer on the lead amphibious crew recognized for its thoroughness and effectiveness at the outset of several invasions, going into hazardous waters in most European and Pacific invasions, preparing the way for invading forces.

“You hear of people who served in the European theater or the Pacific theater, but it’s rare to know anyone who served in both like Edgar did,” Schmidt said.

Because of his courageous service in multiple venues, Peara on Thursday will receive the French Legion of Honor during a ceremony at Eugene City Hall.

Madame Corinne Pereira, the French deputy consul in San Francisco, will be in Eugene to award Peara with the rare French honor.

The National Order of the Legion of Honor was first established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is the highest decoration in France. It is divided among five degrees spanning from “knight,” which is the lowest, to “Grand Cross,” which is the highest. Peara will earn the distinction of knight on Thursday.

Peara said he was notified of his nomination for the award almost five years ago, but because of his expansive service that stretched across Europe, Africa and Asia, it took years for the French Legion to investigate and verify his ré sumé .

“When I found out I’d won the award, I was honored, but I also thought ‘Well, it’s about time,’ ” he said with a shy giggle.

When the letter announcing that he’d won the award was finally delivered to his home in December, Peara ripped it open and then immediately set out by bicycle to share the news with his ill wife, Phyllis, who was living in an assisted living home a few miles away.

“She was very proud of me,” Peara said, his eyes softening. His wife of 41 years died on March 6.

Peara said it’s hard to accept the award without her, but that he’s excited for the publicity it may bring to his ideas regarding war.

A minister emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Church and a self-proclaimed pacifist, Peara opposes war as a solution to foreign conflict.

“I’m not excited for the publicity for me personally, but as a way to share my ideas about how war is criminal,” he said of the French honor.

Peara is one of the oldest members of Veterans for Peace, an organization that seeks to educate the public about the costs of war.

“I don’t know how many generations it will take to realize it, but as long as war is an instrument of any nation’s foreign policy, we continue to be an uncivilized society,” he said.

Even when he served in World War II, Peara said he made a conscious decision to avoid violence, and claims never to have fired his weapon.

In the initial invasion of Algeria on Nov. 9, 1942, Peara and his troops made their way onto shore as local residents fired upon them. Peara was ordered to lead a patrol to disarm the port city of Arzew. Instead of ordering his troops to take the city by force, Peara commanded them to go first into every street, house and building and ask residents to turn over their arms, and to not fire unless fired upon. No one in Arzew opposed them, Peara said, and the troops collected hundreds of weapons.

It was not only his service in Africa but also on the beaches of Normandy, France, that attracted the attention of the French Legion.

Peara was on Utah Beach the morning of D-Day as the infantry landing crafts were making their way toward shore. As the battle intensified, he noted that the Allies’ battalion medical aid station was coming under fire. He moved inland to look for a safer location for the medical station. Along the way, a shell blew his helmet off, but unharmed, he proceeded with his mission until he found a concrete underground German command post that had been abandoned. He went back to the beach and led the aid station to his discovery.

Peara participated in invasions of Sicily and Salerno in Italy, and at Okinawa, Japan, in the Pacific, too.

He went on to attend college on the GI Bill at Principia College in Elsah, Ill., and later earned a graduate degree in ministry from the University of Chicago.

Peara said he’s been blessed to have been able to accomplish so much in his life and is not planning on slowing down any time soon.

“It’s hard to know what’s next,” he said. “I’m only 89 years old; I’m practically still a kid.”



Who: Eugene resident Edgar Peara, an American World War II hero

When/where: 2 p.m. Thursday, Council Chamber, City Hall, 777 Pearl St.

Dignitaries: Madame Corinne Pereira, the French deputy consul in San Francisco, will present the award; Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy will preside

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Fri Apr 15, 2011 7:03 am
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Location: Eugene, Oregon
Post Re: The "Empire" smiles on Veterans For Peace
GUEST VIEWPOINT: France honors Eugene veteran, a hero in war and peace
By Jim Schmidt

Published: Midnight, April 13



Edgar Peara will soon join the distinguished ranks of five-star generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas McArthur and highly decorated World War II hero Audie Murphy.

Although the unassuming Eugene resident will be the first to say he is no hero and would prefer not to be compared to men like these, the National Order of the Legion of Honor is conferred only upon men and women of high distinction and achievement.

Edgar was born on July 22, 1921, in Moline, Ill. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he was a student at Iowa State College at Ames. He attempted to enlist, but as an engineering student, was asked to stay in school. That lasted only a few months, however, and by June 1942, he was on active duty in the U.S. Army.

He served as a second lieutenant in the First Engineer Amphibious Brigade. As a combat engineer, Peara’s job was a dangerous one.

He and his men were trained to clear mines, pillboxes, barbed wire and any underwater obstacles they encountered, to ensure that Allied forces could use the ports for the transport of men and materiel. By October 1942 he was in Algeria, as the Allies prepared to invade Italy.

After participating in the invasions of Sicily at Gela (July 1943) and the mainland of Italy at Salerno (September 1943), Peara was reassigned to train soldiers who would participate in D-Day. The training took place off the southwest coast of England. He, along with many of the men he had trained, landed in an LCI (landing craft, infantry) at Utah Beach on June 6, 1944 — D-Day.

Peara went on to serve in the Pacific campaign, notably at Okinawa, and then Korea, to garrison and disarm the Japanese occupying force there.

However, it is his service in helping to liberate France that is being recognized now.

The National Order of the Legion of Honor was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 as a substitute for the various orders of chevaliers, or knights, of the pre-French Revolution aristocracy.

The earlier order had relied more upon who you were than what you did, but this new one was an order based upon merit alone.

The Legion was loosely patterned after the Roman legions, with legionnaires, officers, commanders and a grand council. The highest rank was not a grand cross, but a grand aigle (great eagle), a rank that wore all the insignia common to the grand crosses.

The order was the first modern order of merit. And the Legion was open to men of all ranks and professions. Only merit or bravery counted. The new legionnaire had to be sworn into the Legion.

The award is often given to those with a military background, but is just as likely to be given to others as diverse as Celine Dion, George Marshall, Louis Pasteur, Duke Ellington, Salvador Dali, Toni Morrison and Alexis de Tocqueville.

Edgar Peara came home in March 1946. He had traveled thousands of miles, and had seen the horror and inhumanity of war for long years.

He became a Unitarian Universalist minister in 1962, believing, he said, that all persons and creatures are related to the divine and will be reconciled to God. Those of us who see Peara often know that this is how he lives his life.

Peara moved to Eugene in 2001. His wife Phyllis, to whom he was married for 41 years, died on March 6. They shared eight children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Peara works now, in his retirement years, for the cause of peace. He is seen in marches and parades wearing the World War II uniform that still fits him.

When he speaks of his time at war, he is self-deprecating. But his voice will falter at times, and in his eyes can be seen the reflection of battles he has known, the inhumanity he has witnessed.

We use the word hero too easily in our lives. No one who plays children’s games on an athletic field deserves to be called a hero. Yet there are heroes among us, and one lives here in Eugene.

He is a man who kept his humanity in the midst of mankind’s greatest attempt to deny humanity, World War II.

He is a man who works for peace, because he has seen the ugliness that is war, and knows that war is never the answer.

He is being honored on April 14 by the government of France. All of us should join in honoring him for his service to his country as a young man, and for his continuing service to his country in the cause of peace.

Jim Schmidt is a Vietnam veteran and president of Lane County Veterans for Peace. He prepared this essay with the assistance of several others.

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Fri Apr 15, 2011 7:05 am
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