70 years ago today marked the beginning of the end for Adolph Hitler and his Third Reich's hold on Europe.
150,000 Allied soldiers....most of them American...traveled by boat from England to the beaches of Normandy, France.
The D-Day Invasion is the largest seaborn invasion in the history of the world.
One South Dakota man knows the story well...he was there.
The first official word came via a shortwave radio broadcast heard around the world. Here it was the middle of the night...2:32 AM South Dakota time...on the morning of June 6th, 1944. "Under the command of General Eisenhower, Allied naval forces supported by strong air forces began landing allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France."
Here on the prairies of South Dakota...where the tall grass blows...you'll find this small house in the community of Volin.
Inside, you'll find this unassuming 94-year-old man named Orvin Oien.
Orvin.....had a front row seat to D-Day. "They dumped us off in the water...."
Orvin was a member of the 90th Infantry Division which was, for a time, under the command of legendary General George Patton, who told his troops day before the invasion that many of them likely would not survive. "A lot of you guys probably know you're probably not coming back....some will probably get wounded...all that kind of stuff."
Orvin was an infantry engineer: his job was to keep trucks, tanks and everything else running.
On June 8th, it was his turn to brave the the beaches of Normandy.....from the moment he hit the water to come ashore, it was apparent death was a real possibility. "And we got shelled quite a bit...when we were unloading. the Germans were still firing at us."
Orvin made it to shore, dodging shells, shrapnel and bullets. "You're scared, you're really scared. But you do your work that you were trained to do."
And Orvin saw for himself....in detail....the bodies of soldiers whose luck ran out that day. "Well you don't like to see it. Most of them were our own. Buddies and people that....you don't like to see that kind of stuff."
Seven decades later...the gravity of this moment in history still weighs on Orvin...heavily. It weighs terribly on his heart. "I don't like to talk about the gory stuff, that will make me cry cause it involved my friends and stuff like that."
Ask Orvin about D-Day, and he'll pull out a historic treasure trove of information.
Books....pictures....maps....all of it lays out the invasion in specific detail.
But nothing compares to hearing the story straight from Orvin himself. "This German plane came over....strafed us...he was about....a little bit higher than the ceiling when he came over my head. Just scared the hell out of me."
To this day, there is still some confusion as to how many Allied troops died during the D-Day invasion: one number is as high as 10,000.
All Orvin knows is that it was a lot.... and he is genuinely amazed that he survived. He says on more than one occasion he could and should have been killed. "I have to say that somebody was looking after me all the time."
But sitting in his simple dining room in a home in Volin, South Dakota....this 94 year old man shrugs off the suggestion that his actions were heroic....his modesty overcoming any sense of pride. "We were just doing what we were supposed to do. What we were trained to do."
And 70 years later, while Orvin can clearly remember the deafening gunfire and the death that accompanied the D-Day invasion....he also daily counts his blessings...thankful that Adolf Hitler's reign was brought to an end....and thankful that he was able to come back home to South Dakota.
Orvin Oien has license plates on his car, designating him as a World War Two veteran.
He told me that a lot of times, he will come out of the grocery store and find people waiting for him at his car...to shake his hand and thank him for his service.
He says that simple gesture....means the world to him.