In early January, a few hundred people gathered in Burlington, Wash., to celebrate the 90th birthday of UCLA alumnus Lynn “Buck” Compton. Just days later, Compton took ill and passed away on Feb. 25. With his passing, the Bruin community not only lost one of its most accomplished members, but an exemplar of the enduring legacy left to us by The Greatest Generation.
“He was absolutely fabulous,” says Marcus Brotherton, co-writer of Compton’s memoir, Call of Duty: My Life Before, During, and After the Band of Brothers. “A very humble man, and paradoxically so, because he had done so many amazing things in his life.”
Some of those amazing things were immortalized in the 2001 HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Based on Stephen Ambrose’s book, the small-screen adaptation made larger-than-life heroes of Compton and the other men of World War II’s elite Easy Company.
For his part — helping destroy German artillery on D-Day, taking a bullet during action in Holland and braving the winter siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge — Compton was awarded numerous medals, including the Purple Heart and Silver Star. But he was a reluctant hero who downplayed his experience.
“What we knew is that he’d been hit in the rear end with one bullet and it made four holes, and to us, that was really funny,” says daughter Tracy Compton. She and her sister, Syndee, “didn’t really understand the significance of it until this miniseries came out. … We were like, ‘Wow, Daddy, we had no idea that you ever went through any of that.’”
Prior to the war, Compton did battle on other fields — as a UCLA football and baseball player. He played alongside Jackie Robinson in both sports, and with future pro quarterback Bob Waterfield ’45 on the 1942 pigskin squad that was the first to beat USC and the first to compete in the Rose Bowl (a 9–0 loss to the University of Georgia). Compton noted in his memoir that “getting to play in the [Rose Bowl] game as a college senior was an exceptional thrill for me.”
Shortly after, Compton, an ROTC member, headed to Fort Benning, Ga., for Officer Candidate School. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he trained as a paratrooper before shipping out to Europe. His wartime experience inevitably included a blue-and-gold moment.
“When I came out from under an anesthetic in a hospital in Diest, Belgium, I looked over and there was [Bruin basketball player] Mickey Panovich [’48] in the next bed!” Compton wrote in a letter to a UCLA buddy.
In 1946, the returning veteran spent spring semester on campus, intending to complete his bachelor’s degree in the fall. But an unexpected acceptance to Loyola Law School cut his UCLA education short and set him on a new course — toward a four-decades-long career in public service. Initially with the Los Angeles Police Department, Compton joined the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office in 1951. Years later, as chief deputy district attorney, he reorganized the DA’s office, creating a system still in place today, and headed the team that successfully prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy.
In 1970, he was appointed to the California Courts of Appeal, where he served as a judge for 20 years. But Compton’s public-life accomplishments were trumped by one much more personal. “He was just the greatest father and family man ever,” Tracy says. “He was always there for us. That’s how we’d like him remembered.”