The Best Defense Foundation: Donnie Edwards & Tom Rice

If hardships of life form true character, our veterans of World War 2 have earned their badges. Much can be said of this ‘Greatest Generation,’ but our actions, and those of the Best Defense Foundation, speak louder than words. 

Established in 2006, The Best Defense Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not for profit organization, dedicated to supporting our veterans, specifically our World War 2 veterans. Creating a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Best Defense facilitates a return to the battlefield for our heroes, ‘taking care of the ones who took care of us.’ Best Defense has facilitated trips for over 200 veterans. Traveling to places such as Normandy, Iwo Jima, and many sites of World War 2 battles.

BDF Founder Donnie Edwards

Former NFL Linebacker Donnie Edwards founded the organization as tribute to give back to the Greatest Generation of warfighters. “I am very fortunate to have been born in this country, to play football, to change my life and get educated, to see the world and have this platform to give back to the men and women who served this great nation,” says Edwards. “I’m truly honored and want to be a man of service, and to serve the guys who served us.” 

Sergeant Maximino Razo.

An enormous inspiration for Edwards was sparked by his grandfather and Pearl Harbor survivor, Sergeant Maximino Razo. Razo was a childhood hero and a father-figure for him growing up. Razo was an Apache Native American and based at Schofield Barracks during the bombing at Pearl Harbor. “He was always a man of pride, composure, and patriotism. At a young age I was always taught to stand up straight, put your hand over your heart, and that when you look at that flag it’s more than just a flag, it’s opportunity.” For his charitable work, Edwards was the recipient of the 2019 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.

A trip with Best Defense is an all-inclusive, once in a lifetime experience for any veteran returning to the battlefield. For many, it has been over 75 years since they last stepped on the hallowed ground. Every trip is marked with a visit to the battle site, meetings with dignitaries, and evenings spent with fellow veterans. For some, a 1,200ft parachute jump.

Staff Sergeant Tom Rice

Staff Sergeant Tom Rice, a veteran of the 101st Airborne Division, completed his 62nd jump at the age of 98. A remarkable feat for anyone, this trip was made possible through the Best Defense Foundation. This was a homecoming trip for Rice to the Netherlands, a site of the Battle of The Bulge in 1944. Rice joined the US Army at Fort Rosecrans near San Diego on November 17, 1940. Rice was eventually assigned to the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) of the 101st Airborne Division. In the early hours of D-Day, June 6, 1944, at 22 years of age, Rice jumped into Normandy as part of Operation Overlord, the largest and most complex military campaign ever undertaken.

We were ready to and almost eager to go into action and get the whole bloody thing over with.

Reflecting on that day, Rice described, “On the night of June 5, 1944, as we boarded the planes that would lead us into combat, I am not sure that we realized the full extent of the dangers and difficulties we faced. Or, if we thought to the hundreds of thousands of other men who have faced similar or even worse trials. But if we had known all that, it would not have made any difference to us. We were ready and almost eager to go into action and get the whole bloody thing over with.”

Donnie Edwards with Tom Rice during his return to the Netherlands.

After a harrowing jump on the 6th of June, Rice landed near Utah Beach, 4km north of Carentan, near heavily armed Germans and miles from the planned drop zone. Rice joined about fifty other Americans and fought in Normandy for more than a month. Sheltering in hunting holes, with little equipment, they were able to and capture hundreds of German soldiers. During the campaign, Rice was wounded by shrapnel and was shot by a sniper in his left knee. In September of 1944, Rice made his second combat jump in Holland during Operation Market Garden. Thereafter fought in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. During this campaign, Rice was seriously wounded while leading a patrol in Bastogne as a sniper round tore his leg and he was also hit in the right arm. After only one month in the hospital, he returned to his regiment in Birtchengarten, Austria.

During the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, The Best Defense Foundation brought Tom Rice, and nine other veterans, back to the Netherlands. When asked how his jump went, Tom replied “perfect,” and “I’m going to do it until I’m 100.”

Rice’s military awards include a Purple Heart with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Two Invasion Arrows, Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star with Cluster, Good Conduct Medal, French Fourregue, Belgium Lanyard and Parachutist Badge. In April 2015, the French government honored Rice and thirteen other veterans by appointing them Knights of the Legion of Honor for their heroic service in the liberation of France during the Second World War. This prize is the highest honor that France grants to its citizens and foreigners.

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