Wednesday, June 06, 2007

How I remembered D-Day

Imagine my excitement last week when I saw that I would be able to attend a special event today at work. In honor of the 63rd anniversary of D-Day, and in the spirit of Memorial Day, we were going to host a special guest. Buck Compton, a member of the E (Easy) Company, known to most as the Band of Brothers, would come to our work campus to speak.

Let me set the stage for this event a little. Within the company are many social organizations, and among these are two groups - those who are military veterans, and those who are reservists. They were the organizers of the event, and of the 300 or so folks in the lecture hall, I'd guess at least 75% were members of these two groups - or their guests. The organizer, Paul, is a veteran, and he introduced another veteran, Chris, who has been a co-worker for a year since retiring from the Marine Corps with 2 stars.

Chris started off with a moment of silence in honor of our fallen troops, as this was also a Memorial Day observance. That was followed by a playing of the Star Spangled Banner, and then Chris provided the background on just who this Buck Compton fellow is. And I learned many things I didn't know.

For all those who have read Stephen Ambrose's book, Band of Brothers, or enjoyed the mini-series, the name Lynn "Buck" Compton should be familiar. As one of the members of E (Easy) Company of the 506th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment) of the 101st Airborne Division, Buck made the jump into Normandy on D-Day, and was awarded a Silver Star for his actions in disabling a German gun emplacement.

But before he put on the uniform of an Army officer, there was college. Buck attended UCLA, where he played baseball with Jackie Robinson, and joined the UCLA football team in winning the Rose Bowl in 1943.

After the war ended, Buck became a police officer in L.A. and started a family. He decided to became a lawyer and moved on to the District Attorney's office as a Deputy D.A., where he led the team which prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan for the murder of Robert F. Kennedy. He was then named to the California Court of Appeal, where he spent 20 years as an associate justice.

He retired to the Pacific Northwest, and ended up the neighbor of a co-worker. And it turned out, when asked, that he was happy to come to speak to us in honor of the day. Which was our good fortune, because Buck is equally comfortable talking about the events of 63 years ago or the current war front in Iraq. He can tell tales of the past, but he doesn't dwell there.

Right off the bat, Buck made us chuckle, as he pointed out the uniqueness of being introduced by a former Major General. He noted that in his career, he hadn't had much exposure to General officers! This set the tone well, as he proved to be very down to earth and matter of fact about his experiences. As with other WWII vets I've known, he feels that what he did was nothing special. In fact, he pointed out that having a book based on Easy Company was pure chance, partly founded from the relationship between Walter Gordon, a member of Easy Company, and Stephen Ambrose - as they were neighbors.

I would need a transcript of the hour he spent with us to remember all of the topics he covered - everything from current politics and the war in Iraq, to the differences between Reality as he recalls it versus the movie version of events. After telling a few tales to illustrate some of the artistic license, I had to grin when someone asked him, "But you did get shot in the butt, right?" - and Buck chuckled and said "Oh, yeah. That happened."

Buck made an incredibly important point, however, that I shall never forget. He talked about how people will walk up to him and thank him for 'fighting for our freedom'. Because he is certain that many, probably most, of the people who do so are not really thinking about what all of those freedoms are. They think of Freedom of Speech (and the evidence is how many people spout off ... *grin*), but they ignore equally important freedoms and rights that we have in this country. Freedom to associate with those we choose to, the right to own property, a free market economy, and so on. These are all part of what makes America special, and we have seen way too much nibbling at them over the years.

It was also quite refreshing to hear him denounce the 'so-called' government leaders who play politics with the troops, and worry too much about whether the NSA is listening to their phone calls. And music to my ears when he referred to Madame Pelosi as traitorous. If he were running for office right now, I'd be voting for him!!

Both before and after the event, Buck generously signed autographs and allowed photos. Since we wanted to get good seats, the Hubster and I did not pause on the way in to buy a copy of Ambrose's book, and on coming out afterwards, I found that they were all sold out. I bought a copy of the book "Biggest Brother", by Larry Alexander, instead - and had that autographed instead, along with a poster for a friend.

I came to shake the hand of one of the Band of Brothers, and instead I got to meet a wonderful American ... priceless.

By the way, I couldn't resist doing a little web searching afterwards - after learning so much more about the rest of Buck's busy life. He may be retired, but he isn't sitting around doing nothing. He has a regular radio gig for a station in Anacortes (north of Seattle, for those east of the Rockies), commenting on current events and political topics. Better yet, he has a blog where one can listen to his previous commentaries. If you're interested - wander over to Buck Compton Online, and tell him Barb sent you!