The Los Angeles Chargers are proud to nominate team legend and former linebacker Donnie Edwards for the 2019 Salute to Service Award.
Presented by USAA, The Salute to Service Award annually recognizes NFL players, coaches, personnel and Legends who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community, as nominated by NFL clubs.
Finalists will be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 1, 2019 the night before Super Bowl LIV.
During Edwards' five seasons with the team, No. 59 was twice voted as an All-Pro linebacker and at the time of his retirement, Edwards was one of only eight players in the history of the NFL to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks over a career. While he was heavily involved with bettering the community and actively supporting the military during his playing days, Edwards has taken full advantage of his connections off the field to support the world around him, especially our military veterans, in his post-football life. It was Edwards' long-standing family ties to the military which moved him to lend his support to our troops overseas, including participating in seven tours with the USO proudly working to help boost morale for members of our military.
"My family has been in the military since my grandpa, who is a Pearl Harbor survivor with the 25th infantry division," Edwards said. "His service and sacrifice to this country has always pushed me to support our military and so I'm a life-long supporter of our military."
But now, Edwards' passion has taken a very special direction as he has founded the BEST DEFENSE FOUNDATION that takes World War II veterans and Vietnam Veterans back to their battlefields and memorials so they can make peace and pay respect to their fallen brothers who never got a chance to live a full life. It's been really rewarding for me. I've been taking back veterans for about 14 years and I've done over 33 programs around the world, from Berchtesgaden, Germany to the beaches of Iwo Jima, and all in-between."
Edwards finds that being able to help those who answered the call of duty to serve our country is a reward unlike any other and it's truly become a passion.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Edwards, had a goal to return as many veterans as he could to Normandy. His goal was achieved earlier this offseason, 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.
Chargers legend Donnie Edwards brought 16 WWII veterans back to the shores of northern France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
"I am very honored and proud to bring these great men back to Normandy and also very proud to be bringing back a World War II 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."
He has participated in 9 USO tours. This year, Edwards along with NFL Legend went to Japan on an NFL-USO Tour to watch the Super Bowl with the troops in Okinawa.. Edwards 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. 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, eleven 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, Sergeant 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.'" His desire, in his post-football career, to help those who fought for our freedoms on countless battlefields heal their old wounds and say goodbye to long lost friends makes him special.