Wayne Skains

Wayne Skains points to a shadow box of medals from his duty in World War II and, later, the Louisiana National Guard.

DODSON, La. -- Born on the 4th of July, World War II veteran Wayne Skains just celebrated his 95th birthday. But he has memories of when he was a 19 year-old soldier, playing a part in a pivotal battle.

Leading up to what became known as "The Great Crusade," Wayne was busy in a depot at a base in England, assigning military equipment to be shipped in the days to come -- D-Day minus, D-Day, and D-Day plus.

"Our military was brilliant to plan it in a way that it was successful. It could've been total failure," Wayne says.

D-Day was a secret. Wayne didn't know exactly what all that earmarked equipment was going to be used for.

"Just from the normal operations, you knew something big was up," he says.

Big it was. On D-Day minus 1, while working the night shift, Wayne remembers.

"I heard the drone of the airplanes. And the noise. And you knew that wasn't normal."

What Wayne heard were American bombers and paratroopers on the way to the French coast.

"We knew it had to come one time or another," Wayne says of the massive invasion.

On D-Day, allied battleships fired on the shores, before our troops began landing, charging into the fire from the heavily Nazi fortified beaches of Normandy.

"You just think. You're going on to a shore in another country, already all these combat troops and all that enemy is set up against you. And you approach them from a spot with no effective protection against their surge of military against you. Then you're successful. Somebody planned it well," Wayne said.

Turning the tide of the war in Europe on D-Day came at an expected, steep price. More than 9,000 allied soldiers were killed or wounded.

Following the invasion, Wayne says, somberly, "Thought about all the GI's that lost their lives,"

But their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the march across Europe. Wayne was one of them. Arriving shortly after D-Day when the beaches were secure.

"I felt like -- looking at the beginning of success. This is what we've come here to do," Wayne remembers.

As a member of an engineering unit, he continued helping get equipment where it was needed. But the assault to defeat Hitler's forces continued taking a toll. Wayne had to put down his clipboard, and pick up a rifle. He was transferred to infantry late in the war.

"Now that's when I thought I was gone, right there," Wayne says.

He earned the Combat Infantry Badge. But he says his action was minor, as the Nazis were retreating, headed for defeat. He's modest about his contribution.

"You played that little insignificant part in that thing that caused that to happen," Wayne says.

After victory in Europe, Wayne left active duty after two and a half years, returning to Winn Parish and his old job at the A&P Store. Then he went to work full time in the Louisiana National Guard for more than three decades, rising to Chief Warrant Officer.

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