Willie Edwards was born in the coal-mining region of West Virginia in 1931. He grew up there in a large family with nine other siblings. In 1950, he joined the National Guard, which marked the beginning of his thirty-year career in the military. Edwards moved to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia around 1977 and retired as First Sergeant in the Army in 1981. In his retirement, Edwards taught school at Surry High School and later served as a volunteer coordinator with the United Way’s Retired Seniors Volunteer Program.