Donnie Edwards is walking 3.1 miles along the North County coast on June 6, a distance that comes with a message: Don’t forget our World War II veterans.
Edwards, the former Chargers linebacker who lives in Rancho Santa Fe, is putting his toes in the sand so those that served can stand tall on their former battlefields.
“This time last year we were in Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day,” Edwards said. “While that was really special, this year it is a little different.”
Making a difference is what Edwards does as he volunteers his time to USA’s heroes. Through his Best Defense Foundation, he has sponsored trips that return military personnel to where they fought for their country.
But with COVID-19 restricting traveling, especially for high-risk veterans, there’s no traipsing to the French shoreline where those brave Americans are treated like royalty.
Instead Edwards is holding a virtual walk with people going left, right, left from around the globe.
“We’ve had to call an audible,” Edwards said. “So even with social distancing, we are walking together in solidarity to remember our veterans.”
D-Day was when the Allied forces landed in Normandy, France, to turn the tide of WWII in the European theater. As the proud son of a WWII veteran, I know the story well.
But others, not so much, and that’s another component of the event that Edwards stresses is critical.
“We want people to bring their kids to ask questions and talk about D-Day,” Edwards said. “We want people to make sure they remember the sacrifice our men and women undertook in one of the most important days in our lives.”
No matter where you live, you can participate for free by trekking the 3.1 miles, the length of the Normandy shore from Omaha Beach to Pointe Du Hoc.
Those walking and donating — or just donating at bestdefensefoundation.org — can receive WWII history books signed by veterans, T-shirts, commemorative coins and other goodies.
Good on Edwards, 47, for shining the spotlight on those who deserve it — he orchestrated some 33 trips over nearly 15 years. Edwards’ family members are in the military, dating to Maximino Razo, his late grandfather and a Pearl Harbor survivor.
“He instilled in me some incredible qualities and reinforced how lucky we are to be Americans,” said Edwards, the NFL’s Salute to Service Award receipient in 2019. “How we can achieve anything because of the service and sacrifice of the men and women who served.”
Before becoming a Pro Bowler, Edwards was an undersized underdog raised in Chula Vista.
He received a last-minute scholarship to UCLA and then was believed to be too small to contribute consistently in the NFL.
The fourth-round pick went on to record 100 tackles in 11 of his 13 seasons.
“I’ve been all over the world and I’ve seen what life is like outside of America,” Edwards said. ”I think a lot of people don’t realize how good we have it, how blessed we are.
“I’m one of 11 kids and I had the opportunity to go to the best college in the country, UCLA, be the first one to get a college degree and a master’s degree and play in the NFL.
“I am the American dream and I recognize that it doesn’t happen out of thin air. I had the freedom to do all the things I did because they fought so we could be free.”
With COVID-19 causing Edwards to cancel trips to Normandy, Iwo Jima and other battle sites, he put the veterans in the sights of others.
“The veterans are in their 90s, trapped in their rooms and they can’t go anywhere,” Edwards said. “So we started doing these Zoom videos and it gives them the opportunity to tell their story and connect with people all around the world eager to jump on and ask veterans questions. It’s been wonderful.”
Same goes for Edwards’ devotion to those who served.
Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports