Lynn “Buck” Compton, a former UCLA baseball and football player, decorated war veteran portrayed in the HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers,” judge and Los Angeles deputy district attorney, died at his daughter’s home in Burlington, Wash., Feb. 25.
Compton was recovering from a heart attack he had suffered last month. He was 90.
Compton attended UCLA in the early 1940s as a physical education student. He was a student-athlete in multiple sports, lettering twice in football and three times in baseball.
As the captain and catcher of the baseball team, Compton played alongside baseball legend Jackie Robinson in baseball and football. Both were inducted into the UCLA Baseball Hall of Fame.
He played offensive guard for the UCLA football team from 1941-1942. The 1942 team became the first in school history to defeat USC and secure the victory bell for the Bruins. In doing so, the team also became the first to win a conference championship and advance to the Rose Bowl.
In a 2007 oral history video, Compton spoke about the crosstown rivalry as he knew it in the 1940s.
“‘SC had class, you know,” Compton said. “When you beat them, you beat a damn good team, and you know, when you got beat, you knew you were beaten by a good team.”
Compton pledged Phi Kappa Psi his freshman year. In addition to his athletic achievements, Compton participated in ROTC beyond the mandatory two years for men at the time and served as cadet executive officer to Cadet Cmdr John Singlaub.
However, World War II interrupted his time at UCLA. In the 2007 oral history transcript, Compton said the bombing on Pearl Harbor and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech on Dec. 8, 1941 confirmed that he was going to be in the service.
In the transcript, Compton said he was sitting in UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall when he heard the speech.
Compton was born Lynn Davis Compton in Los Angeles on Dec. 31, 1921 to Robey and Ethel Compton and grew up during the Great Depression. He took a cue from childhood hero “Truck” Hannah, the L.A. Angels star catcher, and gave himself the nickname “Buck” in grammar school.
During the war, Compton was part of the East Company paratroopers who were dropped behind enemy lines on D-Day in Normandy.
For his service, Compton was awarded both the Silver Star and Purple Heart. His fame grew when he was portrayed by actor Neal McDonough in the 2001 HBO mini-series “Band of Brothers.”
In his memoir “Call of Duty: My Life Before, During and After the Band of Brothers,” written with Marcus Brotherton, a passage recalled D-Day in France, stating that the fleeing enemy was about the same distance from home plate to second base.
After the war, though he re-enrolled at UCLA, Compton never actually graduated because he was accepted at Loyola Law School.
He worked his way through law school as a Los Angeles police officer before joining the district attorney’s office in 1951.
Compton kept close ties with UCLA after his departure, serving as an Advisory Board member for the Bruin Alumni Association. As an attorney, he is most known for heading the team that famously prosecuted Sirhan B. Sirhan for the murder of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
Following the prosecution, Gov. Ronald Reagan appointed Compton to the 2nd District Court of Appeals in 1970. He was known as one of the court’s most conservative jurists.
Andrew Jones, president of the Bruin Alumni Association, said Compton was a profoundly conservative man. He described Compton as a “happy warrior,” unabashed in expressing his conservative beliefs but optimistic in his outlook and alternative visions for the future.
Brotherton, his biographer, also recalled Compton’s openness with his beliefs.
“He was very politically oriented so he always had an opinion about what was going on,” Brotherton said.
Despite his illustrious career and life, those who knew Compton describe him as a humble person.
“He didn’t like talking about himself as much; I think he liked hearing about others more,” said Gary Adams, former UCLA baseball coach from 1974-2004 and close friend of Compton’s.
Jones first met Compton in 2008 and said he was lucky enough to attend an intimate dinner with Compton and his contemporaries from the Los Angeles and California legal communities.
“I was fascinated to see that he was a colorful, utterly human man ““ not a somber black-robed portrait,” Jones said.
Though he was most famous for his war efforts, Brotherton and Adams said Compton was very private about sharing his experiences with most people.
“I think he was much more sentimental than a lot of people thought he was,” Brotherton said. “He had a lot of tough titles ““ veteran, judge attorney ““ yet there was sensitivity to him in that he didn’t want to revisit those experiences in the past.”
Brotherton said Compton had not included a single word about his war experiences in the first manuscript of his biography because he did not want to relive the horrors of his experiences.
Adams said his fondest memories of Compton were the chats they had over the telephone. He was honored to have known him, Adams said.
“He was a hero, one of UCLA and America’s greatest heroes in my opinion,” Adams said.
Compton is survived by his daughters, Tracy and Syndee, and four grandchildren.