It was in the summer of 2007 during the World War 2 Weekend at the Reading airport that I was introduced to, and learned the remarkable story of Lt. Col (Ret.) Lynn "Buck" Compton.
A true American hero who was a central figure in historian Stephen E. Ambrose's best-seller "Band of Brothers," Compton, 90, died Saturday at his daughter's home in Burlington, Wash.
Prior to the 2001 release of the HBO miniseries which was based on the book, Compton was best known for being the Chief Deputy DA for Los Angeles County who prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan in the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy. Governor Ronald Reagan later appointed him as an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal, a post which he held until retirement in 1990.
Ambrose's book, followed by the film's adaptation nine years later, thrust Compton and his comrades from Company E, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, into a global spotlight. The sudden notoriety surprised the aging veterans of Easy Company since it was a half century after their exploits on the battlefields of Europe. Many of today's survivors still receive fan mail from around the world.
As a second lieutenant in Easy Company, Compton was wounded in Normandy and in Holland, but one of the hardest things he endured was seeing so many of his comrades fall during the heroic stand of the 101st against the German offensive at Bastogne in December of 1944. Before the war ended, he was awarded a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.
Born in Los Angeles in 1921, he lettered in both football and baseball while studying at UCLA. His talents as an All American catcher on the baseball team would later serve him well during D-Day. After capturing enemy guns that had been shelling Allied forces coming ashore at Normandy, Compton and his comrades rousted and began chasing down some of the fleeing enemy soldiers. One of Compton's deadly accurate grenade throws estimated to be of similar distance as from home plate to second base on the baseball diamond struck an enemy soldier in the head as he was on the run.
Bill Guarnere of Philadelphia, also a prominent personality in the Band of Brothers book and film, has been a frequent guest at the Forks of the Delaware Military Arms shows in Allentown's Ag Hall through the years. He witnessed Compton's great throwing arm first hand while in combat. He was also impressed at how easily Lt. Compton got along with his men, especially since most officers rarely mingled with enlisted men.
Guarnere called Compton a compassionate man and a "soldiers' soldier."
The "Band of Brothers" movie sparked so much attention, Compton and his mates were often invited to speak at schools, veterans' gatherings and military history events, such as the Reading show which he attended five years ago.
Compton's legacy lives on through the life of Neal McDonough, who portrayed him in the miniseries. The actor's 6-year-old son Morgan is nicknamed "Little Buck" in honor of the fallen soldier.
In commenting about Buck's passing, he said that Compton "did extraordinary things in his life and never took credit for it."
By Jim Zbick