Former NFL great changing the lives of veterans

Heroic Return: NFL great Donnie Edwards’ Best Defense Foundation is taking war heroes back to where they did battle and served their country to give them the closure they never got.

For more on how you can get involved - https://www.bestdefensefoundation.org

Video Transcript

[SOLEMN MUSIC PLAYING]

- I was always fearful of going back. However, in the past couple years, I had said at my age, I'm ready for anything.

DONNIE EDWARDS: Thank God for the game of football because it's provided me such an opportunity to give back and to make a difference for the ones who gave me an opportunity. Oh, we were just having a beer, and I was talking about going to Normandy. And a veteran paratrooper, he's talking about, "Oh, I'd love to go back to Normandy."

I said, "Wait a minute. You-- wait, you want to go back to Normandy?" He's like, "Absolutely." And I said, "Well, why don't you go back?" He's like, "Oh, I can't go back home. I'm on social security. I'm too old." And I was thinking, "Well, I'll take you back."

And the other veteran's like, "Well, I want to go, too." I'm like, "Wait a minute. You guys want to go back?" And the next veteran's like, "Hey, you taking those two guys, I'd like to go back, too." and from there, it just grown, and grown, and grown. And I've taken over 200 veterans back to their battlefields and where they fought and served.

Growing up in San Diego, the military has always been close to my heart. It started with my grandfather. He's at Pearl Harbor survivor, World War II veteran, fought all the way through, got injured. He wasn't around to see the big impact that we're doing with his generation. Although he's not here anymore, he's still here because of what we're doing with the Best Defense.

You know, our motto is "taking care of the ones who took care of us." And right now our oldest generation is the greatest generation, our World War II veterans. And they're all in their 90s now. Look what these guys did 75 years ago now, and let's make sure that we tell them thank you.

HOWARD BEAUFORT: The first phone call I got I was invited on a trip that was going to be free. And right away I thought, this has to be a scam.

DONNIE EDWARDS: Howard Beaufort, he's 101st Airborne. The guy is probably more active than all of us put together. He never, ever wanted to go back.

And we talked to him. And he said, "You know, it's about time." And we took him back. This guy's a pretty stoic, strong guy. He said he never allowed his emotions to get to him.

HOWARD BEAUFORT: This was my first time back. And I'm having a hard time talking. It's just such an emotional thing for me.

DONNIE EDWARDS: For him to go back and to see it, it's just really, I think, changed his life. A couple of years ago, we took Tom Rice, who was a paratrooper in the 501st. We took him back to his actual foxhole where he got shot.

Yeah, what do you think?

TOM RICE: This is great.

DONNIE EDWARDS: It's actually warmer down here than it is up there.

And he's pulling up his arm.

TOM RICE: So the sniper fired and hit me right here.

DONNIE EDWARDS: And he said "That's not even the worst part. The worst one--" and he pulls up his leg--

TOM RICE: And then they got a second shot right through here.

DONNIE EDWARDS: I see it here. So this is the entry spot here.

We're sitting-- we're in the foxhole. We're in the foxhole.

Well, I think we can just to stay here all night.

TOM RICE: Yeah.

Revisiting Bastogne meant that I could bring to a close a lot of things that I did not know about. And I don't worry about him anymore.

DONNIE EDWARDS: Just this past 75th anniversary in Holland, there must have been 100,000 people in Maastricht. It makes me feel so good for these veterans to come out there and see all the love and support. 75 years later, there are people out there that are still remembering. You know, we always visited, you know, the cemeteries because obviously, there is a lot of their friends and their buddies that didn't have a chance to live a full life. And those are the true heroes.

- I have four bronze stars. I have five battle campaigns, two presidential citations. But you know what, there's a hero here today because I want to thank him. And that's Donnie for what he had done for my life to come back. You don't know how much I love you for that, Donnie. This is the highlight for my life.

DONNIE EDWARDS: Truly grateful for the game of football and the NFL for forgiving me this opportunity to serve. And I want to continue to do this and continue to serve more generations as we move forward. But we want to make sure that we give these men and women an opportunity to go back regardless of the costs. And so many people step up with their charitable donation to make it happen. You know, we encourage everyone to be part of the movement, you know, to take care of the ones who took care of us.

- A soldier sometimes has to go through things that people don't know about. And a lot of times, we don't bother to tell them.

DONNIE EDWARDS: I realized that there was a need for these guys to go back to the commemorations and to the anniversaries and have an opportunity to go back to the cemeteries to pay their respects to their brothers.

- How does it feel to be here again?

- Not like it felt the first time.

DONNIE EDWARDS: It's just really special to give these guys an opportunity to come full circle and to get that closure.