11th and 12th grade U.S. History and Senior Government students from Eastlake High School recently participated in a unique opportunity, where they were amongst a pretty impressive group of individuals.
Donnie Edwards, retired NFL player and Sweetwater District Alum, is the founder and executive director of the Best Defense Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on helping military veterans and their families. Thanks to Edwards and his foundation, students filled Eastlake High’s theatre where 12 veterans shared their military and civilian life experiences.
For nearly 22 years, Edwards has dedicated his life to giving back to the military by participating in USO tours, and organizing trips to take veterans to their former battlefields. Like Normandy, where he took seven Iwo Jima survivors back to the islands earlier this year.
Ranging from the ages of 95-100, many of the veterans expressed their desire to inspire young people to have a feeling of hope and pride in their country. “We are here today to encourage all of you to make an active contribution to someone who is out serving our country today,” said Edwards. “I use the platform I have to give back to the men and women who gave so much to us.”
Eastlake High Principal Dr. Ricardo Cooke encouraged students to “listen with their hearts”, as veterans spoke about their experiences in the Korean War, Pearl Harbor, Vietnam War and Normandy Invasion. During the Q & A portion of the event, students asked questions like, what made you enlist in the military, what was your biggest take away from joining the military; and what was the driving force to keep you going?
One veteran quoted late U.S. President Ronald Reagan when he said, “Freedom is not free. Our freedom could be lost in one generation.” For most of the men, it was their belief in their country and so that future generations could enjoy life and live in freedom.
Edwards attributes his dedication to giving back to veterans specifically to his 14 year long career in the NFL and the platform it provided for him to be able to give back to our military.
“If you take anything away from today, please remember one thing,” said a WWII Veteran. “We did it for you. When you see the U.S. flag flying in the breeze, it moves by the last breaths of every late serviceman that fought for this beautiful country.”