In memorium, Lt. Buck Compton, 1921-2012

For news about the passing of Lt. Buck Compton, please see the full tribute I posted on my main site HERE.

About the book

Call Of Duty: My life before, during, and after the Band of Brothers

by Lt. Lynn "Buck" Compton with Marcus Brotherton
Berkley Caliber books, released May 2008

As part of the elite 101st Airborne paratroopers, Lt. Lynn “Buck” Compton fought in the critical battles of Normandy and Market-Garden, and in the freezing cold of Bastogne. Easy Company, immortalized as the Band of Brothers, stands today as an unparalleled icon of brotherhood and bravery under fire.

Here, Buck Compton tells his own story for the first time, revealing how the skills, work ethic, and discipline he learned as a young man served as the foundation for the courage and selflessness he displayed during the deadliest conflict of the twentieth century. From his years as a two-sport UCLA star who played with Jackie Robinson and football in the 1943 Rose Bowl, through his legendary post-World War II legal career as a prosecutor, in which he helped convict Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy, Buck Compton truly embodies the American dream: college sports star, esteemed combat veteran, detective, attorney, judge.

This is the true story of a real-life hero who traveled to a faraway place and put his life on the line for the cause of freedom—and an insightful memoir about courage, leadership, camaraderie, compassion, and the opportunities for success that can only happen in America.

About the author, Buck Compton

UPDATE: For news of Buck Compton's passing, please see the full post on my main site HERE.

Collegiate sports star. Esteemed war veteran. Detective. Attorney. Judge. Lt. Lynn “Buck” Compton, 85, serves as an example of a true American hero. As a college athlete, Compton competed alongside legends such as Jackie Robinson. Among combat veterans, Lt. Lynn “Buck” Compton’s name and autograph are recognized internationally along with Dick Winters, “Wild” Bill Guarnere, and Don Malarkey. As a public servant, Compton’s name will forever be associated with high profile cases.

Born Dec. 31, 1921, Compton grew up in the Great Depression. He graduated from public high school in Los Angeles and attended UCLA in the fall of 1939 where he majored in Physical Education with a minor in Education. He lettered two years in football and three years in baseball and was captain of the baseball team where he played catcher. Compton played guard on the Rose Bowl team in 1943. He was a member of the advanced ROTC program and served as Cadet Executive Officer to Cadet Commander John Singlaub (today Major General, U.S. Army, Retired).

World War II disrupted his studies at UCLA. Compton graduated from the school’s ROTC program and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He commanded the second platoon of Easy Company in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division. He parachuted into Normandy during the early hours of D-Day, was part of the assault group that destroyed the German artillery during the battle at Brecourt Manor, fought on the line at Carentan, helped liberate Holland during Operation Market Garden, and fought in the freezing cold of the Battle of Bastogne.

As a combat veteran, Lt. Compton received the Silver Star, for valor in the face of the enemy, the Purple Heart, for being wounded while in the U.S. military, the World War II Victory Medal, for active duty during World War II, the Orange Lanyard of the Royal Netherlands Army, for bravery, leadership and loyalty in the defense of the Netherlands, the Combat Infantry Badge, the American Campaign Citation, the American Defense Medal, and the European, African Mid-Eastern Campaign Medal. Compton, along with his unit, was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism against an armed enemy when holding the main line of resistance during the Battle of the Bulge.

Following the war, Compton worked his way through Loyola Law School as a policeman for the LAPD, and later as a detective in the Central Burglary Division. He was admitted to the California Bar in 1949.

He served as Deputy District Attorney for LA County, 1951-1970, and had extensive trial experience involving the prosecution of major felony cases of all types. As Chief Deputy District Attorney, he served as second in command of LA County, the largest prosecuting agency in the world. Compton handled a number of high profile cases, including the prosecution of Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy.

In 1970, Compton was appointed by Governor Ronald Reagan to the California Courts of Appeal as an Associate Justice. During his term on the bench, Judge Compton authored more than 2,000 written opinions in all areas of law.

Compton was portrayed by actor Neal McDonough in the acclaimed HBO miniseries Band of Brothers, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.

A widower since 1994, Compton lives in the Pacific Northwest today where he stays in close contact with his two children and four grandchildren. Compton is a sought-after speaker, and in his spare time provides policy and political commentary on a radio station based in Anacortes.

[above photo, Lt. Lynn "Buck" Compton,
Burlington, Washington, October 2007,
photo c. 2007 Mary Margaret Brotherton]

Call of Duty, Table of Contents

Preamble: Only in America
1 First Training Jump
2 From Benning To Normandy
3 The Shock At Brecourt
4 My “Movie Career”
5 Dad’s Secret
6 Triumph
7 Horror
8 Somehow You Continue
9 Train For Georgia
10 To Get A Uniform
11 Decision of A Lifetime
12 Wearing the Wings
13 Joining Easy Company
14 Beyond D-Day
15 Carentan
16 Market-Garden
17 Wounded
18 My Last Battle
19 The End of the War
20 Return To Normalcy
21 Vice
22 Happy Again
23 My First Trial
24 Secrets of the DA’s Office
25 Key Cases
26 RFK Assassination
27 Sirhan Sirhan’s Trial
28 Finishing on the Bench
29 Band of Brothers
30 Last Rants and Reflections

Epilogue by Neal McDonough
About the author
[above photo, front page of LA Times, April 18, 1969.
Dep. Dist. Atty. Lynn Compton (top photo) speaking at a news conference
after Sirhan Sirhan verdict.
Compton family archives]

Inside the book, read page 1, chapter 1

Chapter 1
—First Training Jump—

In those first few split seconds after jumping out of the Douglas C-47 Skytrain military transport, nothing existed. No feeling of falling. No rush. No markers or indicators of orientation. Just floating.

I don’t recall fear. And though it was my first official jump from an airplane, everything appeared to be going smoothly. I didn’t know it yet, but something was horribly wrong.

In my mind raced a thousand thoughts. And no thoughts. By the time you get to your first official jump, you know it by the numbers. It’s reflex. The drop zone nears. You stand up, hook up, check the equipment of the guy ahead of you, count off—10 okay! 9 okay! 8 okay! 7 okay!—you shuffle to the door, the jumpmaster taps your calf, when the guy ahead of you clears, you jump. It’s all so routine by then; you do it without thinking. The training that leads up to the time when you make your first exit from a plane is so intense that you to step forward without hesitation.

Accelerating downward, I knew I’d soon feel the static line jerk my chute from its pack. I’d soon float gracefully the rest of the way down to the drop zone at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the paratrooper school was situated. No more than a few yards long, the static line connected the deployment bag of my parachute to the aircraft. Once the line caught, it would separate from the parachute and remain in tow behind the aircraft, later to be pulled in and stowed by the crew chief. Nobody told us why we jumped with static lines. I assumed it was for safety and uniformity. If you had a bunch of soldiers freefalling, they’d all pull their chutes whenever they saw fit—and that would never do in the military. You’d have increased causalities and a very erratic pattern of landing.

We absolutely couldn’t be scattered when we hit the ground. Our whole point was to jump as a unit, ready to fight. We were soldiers first, before we were parachutists. The tactical advantage we offered was our ability to be slotted from the sky into virtually any battlefield. We could parachute into areas not accessible by land, and attack enemy fortifications normally considered untouchable because of geography. On paper, it was a crack idea. But America was still working out the bugs.

[above photo, Buck, about 1946, Compton family archives]

Inside the book, read an excerpt from mid-book

Pushing through the branches of the hedgerow, I spotted a trench immediately in front of me. The trench made an L shape, with a large circle at the point of the L. I could have turned and gone either way. Immediately, I glimpsed two Germans in the end of the trench that ran perpendicular to the hedgerow. They were loading and firing one of their artillery pieces down onto the beach.

With my borrowed Thompson submachine gun in front of me, I sprang through the hedgerow and jumped into the trench. Winters, who was now acting as company commander, had told me to go take a look, then report back to him—but I figured I could take out the two Germans easily enough first.

The trench was about waist deep, and I ran along it toward the Germans. They were situated in another large circle at the end of the trench, a gun emplacement about a foot and a half deep. Halfway along the trench I stopped running and planted myself, the Thompson at hip level. I had never killed a man before but knew what I needed to do. The Germans heard me, stopped what they were doing, and wheeled around. Their faces were instantly full of surprise, replaced by instant horror. Without hesitation, I pulled the trigger. All I heard was a soft “plunk.” I racked it back, and a live round popped out. My borrowed machine gun was completely useless.

I looked at the Germans. They looked at me in surprise. There were two of them and one of me. They were armed to the hilt. My gun was completely useless.

[above photo, Buck and his grandmother, Laura Cleveland, taken c. 1943,
Compton family archives]

Read John McCain's foreword

The “Band of Brothers” story rightly took America by storm. In telling of that remarkable generation of men who risked everything – everything – to defeat the evils of fascism, the tale of Easy Company’s bravery and valor has inspired its own, new generation of Americans.

As rightly it should. America has relied throughout its history on the courage and honor of extraordinary citizens who, though they may come from the most ordinary of situations, stand up when duty calls them to act. The “Band of Brothers,” that company of citizen-soldiers who helped our country wage and win World War II, represented that timeless virtue, the unselfish determination to serve a cause greater than our self-interest. In choosing this course, no matter its cost, an entire generation of men and women helped save the world from the evils of Nazism. We today, and all who follow, are in their debt.

Men and women, no matter how meager their origins or difficult their circumstances, possess within them the potential to alter the course of history. Buck Compton knew this, and this understanding shaped his life and destiny. He knew that there is no greatness without courage, no faith in country without devotion to fellows, no commitment to duty without service to others. Through his life and his words, we can find much to admire in men like him.

Second Lieutenant Compton commanded the second platoon of Easy Company in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the famed 101st Airborne Division about which so many tales are told. In an episode familiar to any viewer of the “Band of Brothers” series, in 1944 Buck Compton and others assaulted a German battery operating four 105 mm howitzers directed at Utah Beach, disabling the guns and routing the enemy. Buck was awarded the Silver Star for that action. Later, after being wounded in an operation aimed at seizing bridges in the Netherlands, Buck returned to his unit in time for the month-long siege that would in time become known as the Battle of the Bulge.

In the course of my military service, I have learned what it’s like to fight on foreign soil. When bullets begin flying and fighting grows thick, the ability of any individual to make correct decisions is sorely tested. Indecisiveness can be costly; poor judgment deadly. As this memoir so ably details, Buck Compton’s performance in battle demonstrates that firmness and strategic thinking can save lives. In critical moments on the World War II battlefront, Buck Compton was there: fighting, persevering, and never relenting.

Yet Buck’s story doesn’t end there. He returned from war to a life of public service, measuring success not only by victories on the battlefield but also through his conduct during seasons of peace. Turning down an offer to play minor league baseball, he focused on a career in law, became a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department and, ultimately, an Associate Justice on the California Appeals Court. In reaching a level of success in civilian life commensurate with his victories in battle, Buck Compton showed us the many ways in which Americans fight for justice.

This memoir does his story the service it deserves. This book is the next best thing to having this courageous, thoughtful, and exceedingly modest hero relate in person the adventures and exploits of Easy Company, the prosecution of Sirhan Sirhan, and other tales from the life of an extraordinary American called to duty in an extraordinary time. In understanding the life of honor and service Buck Compton has bestowed upon his country, we glimpse anew the greatness that is America.

—US Senator John McCain
Phoenix, Arizona
January, 2008

[photo courtesy the office of Sen. John McCain]

Read Neal McDonough's Epilogue

By Band of Brothers actor Neal McDonough

I would do anything in the world for Buck Compton.

It was an absolute honor to portray him in Band of Brothers, and that’s an understatement. Buck never likes being called a hero, but that’s what he is to me. Not only did he serve his country well in the war, but he went on to do exemplary things in life. When you consider the scope of what he’s done—college sports star, paratrooper, detective, attorney, judge—if a person does just one of those things, you’d say it’s an accomplishment. Buck has done them all.

Personally I owe a lot to Buck. Portraying him marked my big break as an actor. Also, I would never have met my wife, Ruvé Robertson, with whom I have two wonderful children, Morgan and Catherine, if it hadn’t been for Buck. My life is exceedingly blessed today, and Buck has played a large role in that.

To explain: before I did Band of Brothers, I had been acting in professional roles for about a decade but hadn’t done anything major, just independent films and smaller roles on TV. In early 2000, I decided to move from Hollywood back to Cape Cod, MA, where I grew up. It was a time of reevaluating my career. Maybe it was time to give up my dream. My parents were motel operators. Maybe I should take up that.

A friend of mine called me to audition for Band of Brothers. Initially, I auditioned for a much smaller part than the role of Buck Compton—I don’t even remember what it was. Tom Hanks read with me and immediately diffused any nervousness I was feeling. Tom asked me to come back the next day and read for the role of Buck. Two months later I received the call of a lifetime. The first thing I did was phone my dad to tell him the good news: “I got Band of Brothers.”

I wanted to meet Buck in person, so I flew up to Washington State where he lives. I arrived in the morning and called Buck. He offered to meet in a restaurant for breakfast. He had already eaten, he said, but he’d have another. I had never seen a picture of him, yet when he walked into the restaurant, instantly I knew it was him. He shook hands with me with these huge hands of his, just the size of canned hams, and ordered a five-egg omelet, his appetite for breakfast reflective of his appetite for life.

We talked for some time. Buck’s a real straight shooter. Over and over again, he said he just did his job. Nowadays, my goodness, people celebrate mediocrity to death—any little accomplishment is met with huge self-applause. People always want to be noticed for any above-average act. Yet Buck excelled in every way and shrugged off his accomplishments like they were no big deal. Buck never says, hey look at me. If you do something great, that doesn’t mean you’re great—that’s one thing I take from Buck. Any time I start touting my own horn, I can literally feel Buck at my shoulder saying: “What are you doing?”

A few months after I met Buck I flew over to London to start filming Band of Brothers. Two friends came with me. The first day we were out at a pub and I noticed an incredibly beautiful South African woman. She stood 6’3” tall and wore this black leather coat from head to heels. I couldn’t even speak. She was doing PR for various clubs and just happened to be working the door for guest lists. All I could say was, “You’re so tall.” All she said was, “And you’re American.” We talked for awhile, but the next day I was off to boot camp. Two weeks later an administrative assistant tracked her down for me. Ruvé and I have been together ever since.

About three days into our training, which was quite arduous, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg arrived. Tom gave this amazing speech about why we owe it to these guys to give it our all. We didn’t want to let Steven and Tom down, but we certainly didn’t want to let down the veterans we were portraying. We owed it to those guys to do it right.

During the filming, I phoned Buck a bunch of times. I probably drove him nuts with all my questions: How did you wear your hat, to the left or right? Which gun did you favor? What guys would you hang out with? Buck was so helpful on lots of stuff.

When I was in boot camp, one of the guys had a machine gun and slapped me by mistake in the face, chipping three of my teeth. Blood was gushing down my chin, but, still in character, I didn’t want to let on how much pain I was in. So I finished the exercise. Doc Roe came over, the actor, took a thread and needle, and sewed me up. He wasn’t a real medic, mind you, but we all wanted to stay true to our roles. After two or three days the cut was festering, not looking so good, so I went to the hospital still dressed in my fatigues. “What’s your name?” the doctor asked.

“Lt. Lynn Buck Compton,” I answered. It was the first thing that came to mind.

Here’s an example of Buck’s humility. After Band of Brothers came out, we were featured in People magazine, so Ruvé and I flew up to Washington to get some pictures taken with Buck. The journalists asked Buck if they could see his medals. Buck’s daughter was with him when they asked this, and she was like, “What medals are they talking about, Dad?” Buck sort of hemmed and hawed and rummaged around in his attic for them. He had never showed his daughter his medals. With Buck, it’s never about the awards you get in life; it’s about doing the right thing. That’s the prize in itself.

I’m thankful to Buck for the career advancement his portrayal brought me. Being in Band of Brothers brought me in close contact with Steven Spielberg for the first time. All of us got along great with him. When Band of Brothers was nominated for the Golden Globes, all of us “soldiers” were downstairs in the theater. We made a pact that if Band of Brothers won, we’d rush the stage when Tom and Steven were on it. The bouncers let us in just as the announcement was being made that Band of Brothers had won. So we all ran onto the stage. Tom and Steven laughed right along with us. Shortly after that, Steven called me to do Minority Report, then Boomtown, then I got Flags of Our Fathers. I’ve never stopped working since Band of Brothers. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. Buck and I have a running joke that our careers are parallel, his in real life, mine on film. After I portrayed him as a soldier in Band of Brothers, I played a detective in Minority Report, then a district attorney in Boomtown. The joke is that I’m going to play a judge next.

I’ve been asked to speak in public about Buck on several occasions. I do so willingly, but I always find it a bit emotional. It’s hard to speak about Buck without getting tears in my eyes; he’s such an amazing person. There’s been some talk about opening a justice hall with Buck’s name on it. I think that’s a great idea, and hope it happens. For all he’s done for our country, the least we can do is put his name on a building. A few months ago I presented a lifetime achievement award to Buck on behalf of the Adventurers Club in LA. I was happy to do so. My only thought was that they could never make a big enough lifetime achievement award for Buck.

He’s an amazing man, although he’d never say it himself. So I’ll say it here for him. Buck Compton—you’re an admirable person. I’m honored to know you. And to say you’re my friend, that’s the best part of all.

Neal McDonough
France, 2007