Commentary

Remembering a legendary WWII hero

Originally Published: March 6, 2012
By Duff McKagan | Special to ESPN.com

Buck ComptonChris Radburn/PA Wire/AP PhotosBuck Compton, who served in World War II in the 101st Airborne, died last week at 90.

Most times, I would say that bringing light to the passing of someone outside of sports would be out of form here at ESPN.com. But sometimes there are just excellent people who walk this planet who sort of transcend everything. Lt. Lynn D. "Buck" Compton seemed to be one of those.

Buck Compton died last week at his daughter's home in Burlington, Wash., at the age of 90.

I would assume that in this male-dominated realm of professional sports that we like the idea of our "man" stuff. We like to watch MMA fighters ground-and-pound with impunity, or NFL wide receivers going over the middle, taking great risks to hopefully gain great rewards. They all make it look so easy, and maybe a small part of us lives through this grandeur of athleticism. Man stuff.

We like to transpose our real-life frustrations into the grace, ease and hardcor-ness of our heroes on the court, pitch, gridiron, ring or ballfield. Hell, half of us think we can do that stuff, given half the chance -- especially after a couple of beers.

A lot of you know of either Stephen Ambrose's book "Band Of Brothers," or have seen the HBO miniseries. The subject matter of 101st Airborne's Easy Company, and its epic journey from the beaches of D-Day Normandy to Hitler's Eagles Nest, is pure man stuff too.

Buck Compton played a pivotal real-life role in Easy Company's long and arduous campaign from D-Day to the brutal Battle of the Bulge, and the parachuted-in-behind-enemy-lines Operation Market Garden to the brutally freezing Ardennes. After coming back from the war, he went back to school and earned a law degree. He became a Los Angeles cop and rose to Los Angeles County deputy district attorney (successfully leading the three-man team that convicted RFK's assassin, Sirhan Sirhan) and eventually went on to become a judge in the California Court of Appeal. He was a college standout in baseball and football at UCLA before the war, playing with Jackie Robinson on both Bruin squads to boot!

[+] EnlargeLynn
Courtesy of Seattle SeahawksBuck Compton acknowledges the fans as part of Seahawks Military Appreciation Day on Nov. 7, 2010.

Two years ago, my band Loaded had the honor to play halftime at a Seattle Seahawks game on their Veterans Appreciation Day. The raiser on the 12th Man flag that day was none other than the infamous Lt. Compton. If you have ever been to a Seahawks game, you would know of the honor bestowed on the flag-raiser. Local heroes from Felix Hernandez, Nate McMillan, Bill Russell and Ken Griffey Jr. have all gotten the 70,000 fans there on their feet before the game. But when they introduced Compton, the roar was something otherworldly. It was a sound that passed beyond the appreciation of a typical sports crow, to something that was one part patriotic, another part awestruck and yet another part historic. Buck Compton was a man's man among boys. We all thought we were tough and bad-ass until he -- even at 88 years old -- stepped up to that flagpole.

Compton did a few speaking appearances after the HBO series came out. As a longtime lawyer and judge, you could imagine that he was an eloquent speaker and could hold his own in public. The man never made his story seem any more important than any other combat soldier's story. As a matter of fact, he came off as a little embarrassed as to why his Easy Company was chosen to be put under such a public microscope.

We lost a good one. Those WWII vets are far and few between these days. If you get a chance, stop one of those guys next time you see them wearing one a "WWII Vet" baseball caps. Get their story … and talk to a real-life hero.

Musician Duff McKagan -- who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and now has his autobiography out -- writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com. To send him a note, click here and fill out the form.

Michael "Duff" McKagan, a founding member of Guns N' Roses, writes a weekly column for Playbook Sounds and is a passionate sports fan. McKagan is currently playing in Loaded and Velvet Revolver, is a prolific writer, including an autobiography, "It's So Easy: And Other Lies."