"As the Greatest Generation comes to an end, all we have are these last few years to thank them, show them our appreciation and give them the honor they deserve."
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Chargers legend Donnie Edwards had a goal – return as many veterans as he could to Normandy.
His goal was achieved this week, as Edwards and his Best Defense Foundation took 16 veterans and a nurse who served in World War II on a 10-day trip to the shores of northern France.
"I am very honored and proud to bring these great men back to Normandy and also very proud to be bringing back a WWII nurse who served in triage tents, nursing our wounded men," Edwards said. "We've attended ceremonies, parades, visited schools, and several of our veterans will be receiving their French Legion of Honor Award. We will spend time with the vets in private settings where they are able to reconnect with each other and share memories and stories."
The trip started out at LAX where all the veterans got a special surprise, United Airlines upgraded their seats to first class. They then went from Los Angeles to Paris, where the vets visited the oldest fire house in the city, which had units help extinguish the flames at Notre Dame earlier this year. The journey culminated on the bluffs above Omaha Beach on Thursday.
The week has been an emotional one for everyone involved on Edwards' trip. After all, it honors and observes the over 160,000 Allied troops who landed along France's coastline marking the largest seaborne invasion in history. While more than 9,000 soldiers were wounded or killed, those who served are viewed as heroes.
"It's (been) filled with emotions of a wide range," Edwards added. "There will be happy times and there will be sad memories that may be re-lived."
"Thank you, Donnie," mentioned Harry "Pete" Shaw of the 283rd Field Artillery Battalion on Instagram. "You've given me so much. This is the highlight of my life."
For the last 22 years, Edwards has walked the walk and talked the talk when it comes to giving back to the military. He's participated in USO tours, like last year when he went to Japan on the All-NFL Legends USO Tour, and regularly returns veterans to their former battlefields, something he's been doing for the last 14 years. Like Normandy, he took seven Iwo Jima survivors back to the islands earlier this year.
Due to his lifelong passion for supporting the military, Edwards was the Chargers' 2017 Salute to Service nominee. He credits the game of football for giving him the platform to do so much for those who served.
"I come from a big family, nine people, and my mom's first generation from Mexico," Edwards noted. "Growing up, this game of football has provided me a tremendous opportunity to get educated (and) change my life financially. To play 14 years in the NFL, this platform I have from playing ball allows me to give back to the military; to serve and say thank you. To be born in this country, I'm just truly blessed to play football and change my life."
His dedication to giving back comes from his family. His grandfather, Sgt. Maximino Razo, was a Pearl Harbor survivor, a father-figure for Edwards growing up, and ultimately, his inspiration.
"I do it in his honor and his legacy," he said. "Growing up, he took care of me when I was young, and now I'm taking care of the guys. Our motto is, 'Taking care of the ones who took care of us.'"
To continue following along during the remaining days of Edwards' trip and for more information, visit the Best Defense Foundation's Instagram.
Chargers legend Donnie Edwards brought 16 WWII veterans back to the shores of northern France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.