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World War II veterans return to the beaches of Normandy

Former Charger Donnie Edwards and the Best Defense Foundation organized the trip on 78th anniversary of D-Day.

SAN DIEGO — This week, the Best Defense Foundation is taking 30 World War II veterans to the beaches of Normandy, France to commemorate the 78th Anniversary of D-Day. In this Zevely Zone, I went to Rancho Santa Fe to meet the former San Diego Charger organizing the trip. 

World War II was one of the most pivotal moments in US history, some of the veterans who tipped the scales in the favor of freedom are about to take a trip that is long overdue. "We have a great, great, great schedule planned," said NFL great Donnie Edwards to a room filled with American heroes. Donnie was born and raised in San Diego. "You can achieve anything America if you work hard," said Donnie. He's proud of his football career but says his grandfather, Maximino Razo, a Pearl Harbor survivor inspired his greatest accomplishment which was founding the non-profit organization called the Best Defense Foundation. "I'm living the American dream at the end of the day," said Donnie. "I want to make sure that I pay back I pay it back to those who gave me this opportunity in America."

Credit: Best Defense Foundation

This week, his non-profit will fly 30 World War II veterans to Normandy, France to commemorate the 78th Anniversary of D-Day. "C.P. was first wave, first wave D-Day," said Donnie's wife Kathryn Edwards who gushed over 101-year-old Omaha Beach survivor C.P. Martin. "It was a mess. The weather was atrocious," said C.P. "You went through hell and back and we are so honored to be taking you back," said Kathryn.

Credit: Best Defense Foundation

"Hi Betty, thank you for your service," I said when I met Betty Huffman-Rosevear. After her husband was killed in Denmark, she joined the cause as an Army Corps nurse. "Thirty-one days on a ship and I was in the Philippines not long after that," said Betty.

They all remember World War II, as if it happened yesterday. "The first thing to go is the plan. When you got the order, you moved. We had a duty to perform, and we did it," said 96-year-old Andre Chappaz who fought in the Pacific theater. 

Credit: Best Defense Foundation

100-year-old paratrooper Tom Rice, fought in the Battle of the Bulge. "They threw chaos at us, I mean chaos," said Tom who was dropped behind enemy lines. Tom was wounded four times but kept going back for more. "Well, I didn't ask for it, ha, ha, ha. I got in the way of it," joked Tom.

96-year-old Gilbert Nadeau is still a proud Navy man who survived kamikaze attacks. "We went in to kick butt. It was World War," said Gilbert.  

The veterans will enjoy a trip at no cost to them. "They've already paid, they've already paid," said Donnie. Who better to lead D-Day veterans back to the beaches they stormed, than Donnie Edwards who was the NFL's master of the blitz. "Come June 1, it's game time," said Donnie while holding an aged American flag. "This is a flag that has been all around the world. This represents all of those who are no longer here," said Donnie while his eyes filled with tears. "Yeah, I feel it, I feel it," said Donnie.  

This is the current generation's chance to take care of those who took care of us.

Credit: Best Defense Foundation

According to the organization's news release: The Best Defense Foundation, along with title sponsor Delta Air Lines, is set to take 30 World War II veterans to Normandy for the 78th anniversary of D-Day. These veterans will participate in a nine-day experience that will feature 12 of the veterans receiving the French Legion of Honor as well as multiple parades in towns such as Sainte-Mère-Église and Carentan, a commemorative parachute jump at La Fiere and official commemoration ceremonies throughout the area.

Delta Air Lines is the presenting sponsor of this Battlefield Return Program to Normandy. They will be providing a historic charter flying the veterans directly into Deauville, Normandy. Thirty Delta veteran employees, many who served in Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Iraq and Afghanistan, will accompany the WWII veterans on the charter flight. Including volunteers from Best Defense Foundation, over 75 U.S. veterans will be traveling to Normandy.

"Around 10% of Delta's employees are veterans, with many of them continuing to serve in the Guard or Reserves," said Tad Hutcheson, Delta's Managing Director of Community Engagement. "We are indebted to these heroes of yesterday, today and tomorrow for the sacrifices they've made on behalf of our country and the world. It is our privilege to participate in this charter that celebrates and honors these veterans."

Michelin, the leading mobility company, will be sponsoring two unique dining experiences for the veterans.

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"Beyond tires, Michelin provides maps and guides that, today, enrich travels to make them unique experiences," said David Chapman, Vice President of Government and Defense at Michelin North America, Inc. "During World War II, these guides were crucial in aiding Allied troops during the events surrounding D-Day. Michelin is proud of this support, and we are deeply honored to commemorate and show our appreciation for these veterans."

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Michelin North America has a strong relationship with current and former military members, including an employee business resource group to recognize veterans experiences and mentor employees. The company has been named a best employer for veterans by Forbes magazine.

The celebration will begin with an opening gala in Atlanta – home of Delta, the program's presenting sponsor. Amazon is also supporting the Atlanta-based kickoff event out of deep appreciation for the military and as part of their ongoing efforts to support military and veteran families through hiring, workforce development and community engagement.

RELATED: San Diego WWII veterans at Pearl Harbor to commemorate 80th anniversary of attack

"Amazon is proud to support the Best Defense Foundation as they honor the greatest generation on their return to the battlefields of yesterday. We owe much to their generation's sacrifice." said John Quintas, Amazon's Director of Global Military Affairs.

CWTSatoTravel most recently signed on as a sponsor and with a 73 year tradition of providing travel services to the U.S. military, they will once again be supporting our heroes on this historic occasion. Additional sponsors include Sig Sauer and Born Primitive, which have long-standing partnerships with the Best Defense Foundation. Both have supported Best Defense Foundation as sponsors of past Battlefield Return Programs, as well as the Stronghold Transition Program, which provides newly transitioned special forces veterans with the help they need to lead a successful life after the military.

For more information, please visit www.bdf.org.

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