That is unless you’ve read the book “Band of Brothers.” However, if you have only watched the HBO mini-series, you have probably seen this little action unfold on screen without realizing what exactly happened.
On June 6th, 1944, members of the famed Easy Company, of the 506th PIR, 101st Airborne, were tasked with taking out a German battery of 105mm howitzers located near Brécourt Manor, firing onto Utah Beach. Lt. Lynn “Buck” Compton was among the small group of men ordered to make the assault.
22-years-old when Operation Overlord commenced, Compton had spent the past few years as a student at UCLA. Compton was a member of Phi Kappa Psi, and played both baseball and football for the Bruins. Compton was, in fact, an excellent baseball player. A catcher, he earned both all-conference and All-American honors in 1942. Compton also played in the 1943 Rose Bowl against Georgia. UCLA lost 9-0. Compton was, by all accounts, an incredible athlete.
As they captured the first gun at Brécourt, several members of Easy Company flushed out a trench near one of the howitzers. German soldiers fled the trench and the gun emplacement through an open field while the attacking paratroopers fired on them. That is, except for Buck Compton. Instead of firing his Thompson, Compton opted to pull out a grenade. Compton pulled the pin and threw the grenade toward the retreating Germans. The throw was timed, perhaps instinctively, perfect. The grenade exploded next to the head of a retreating German soldier, killing him instantly. The throw was magnificent in its own right, but what makes both the throw and the story exceptional is that the grenade exploded at about the distance between home plate and second base. Compton, the All-American catcher from UCLA, had taken out a grenade and, like it was a baseball, fired a Yadier Molina-esque strike 127 feet, killing an enemy combatant in mid air.
You can see the throw depicted in “Day of Days,” the second episode of “Band of Brothers” at the 1:28 mark in this video tribute to Buck Compton.
Lt. Compton was awarded the Silver Star for his actions at Brécourt. He passed away at the age of 90 on February 25th, 2012.
As I watched that episode of “Band of Brothers” last night, I was reminded of that little factoid, which was described clearly in the book. The episode obviously shows Compton throwing the grenade, and the grenade exploding next to the retreating German, but there is so much rifle and machine gun fire going on at the same time, as well as a ton of quick cuts, that, for the uneducated viewer, it’s easy to miss and hard to tell who or what is killing whom. I figured this would be a cool little story to share on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Now go out and read “Band of Brothers” for a million more of those types of stories. I also recommend “The Longest Day.” Really read anything about D-Day, because it’s one of the most incredible 48 hours in history.