Since the success of the HBO series "Band of Brothers" (BoB), several other books have come out about some of the key members of that story.
So far, these books have included autobiographies by Dick Winters in "Beyond Band of Brothers", Bill Guarnere and Babe Heffron in "Brothers in Battle", Donald Malarkey in "Easy Company Soldier" , and Lynn "Buck " Compton in "Call of Duty". David Kenyon Webster had earlier written his war autobiography in the 1950's, and this was finally published in 1994 with help from Stephen Ambrose as "Parachute Infantry". In addition, a separate biography of Dick Winters - "Biggest Brother" - was written by Larry Alexander.
Reading all of these books and re-watching the HBO movie series on DVD has a Rashomon-like quality. Details of how things happened in E Company's WWII campaign change from one storyteller to the next. Like Rashomon, from the differences in the stories, it is possible to glean insights into the characters of each of these men and how they wanted to remember themselves.
As mentioned by other reviewers, of all of these books, this one by Buck Compton actually has the least amount of information about E Company's actions during WWII. It does turn out to be an excellent study in the life and times of the Los Angeles area from the Depression all the way through the 1980's. In particular, the section on Compton's career as an LAPD policemen and then district attorney read like something out of "LA Confidential".
Buck Compton lived an incredibly full life - he was a child actor in Hollywood, a UCLA baseball player and a lineman for the UCLA football team that won the Pac-10 and went to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 1943, a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne during WWII who won a Silver Star for his role in destroying a German artillery battery in Normandy, a plainclothes policeman for the LAPD, and an LA district attorney who prosecuted Sirhan Sirhan for the assassination of Robert Kennedy. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be a judge on the California State Court of Appeals. Finally retiring to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle, he would become a "poor man's Rush Limbaugh" (in the words of one of his daughters) as a conservative radio talk show host.
Ultimately, though, it was Compton's brief time with E Company that made him famous enough to get his autobiography published.
An analysis of Compton's time with E Company:
The discrepancy between Compton's recollections of the battle at Carenton and the accounts of others in E Company is easily explained. It is clear from Compton's book that, after the Brecourt assault, he somehow became separated from the rest of E Company in the general confusion of Army maneuvers as the soldiers moved to attack Carenton. Thus, he arrived late to Carenton, after the battle was over, and his account describes only the post-combat scenes of destruction and carnage. Compton's account does jive with all of the other BoB accounts - Compton's name never appears in any of the other descriptions of the attack on Carenton, as it is now clear that he simply wasn't there.
The attack at Brecourt would be the highlight of Compton's combat efforts. His only other contributions to E Company consisted of getting shot in the buttocks almost immediately when the shooting started in the Holland campaign, and then getting caught in the hell of Bastogne as E Company was sent out to hold the perimeter against a constant German artillery fire.
Which brings us to the uncomfortable topic of Buck Compton's moment of "combat fatigue" at Bastogne.
Although Compton firmly denies that he suffered a PTSD-type breakdown at Bastogne, there's a lot of evidence in his own account in this book that after the successful assault on the German guns at Brecourt, he rapidly lost his taste for fierce combat. Ambrose, in fact, states in his book that none of the original E Company men would ever charge as recklessly into battle as they did at Brecourt. Their initial enthusiasm for combat would rapidly be replaced by a general sense of self-preservation as they saw how many of their buddies were getting killed.
Compton's own version of the event at Bastogne puts the blame on Lieutenant Dike, E Company's useless replacement lieutenant during Bastogne. He states that he ran off the line to find Dike, and later raged about Dike's absence. Despite his explanation, the weight of the evidence from the other BoB accounts is that, yes, he did suffer a PTSD breakdown, becoming unable to function in his role as a second lieutenant for his unit after witnessing the carnage inflicted by the German shelling. The whole purpose of the military command structure is so that there is always someone to step in to take over in another soldier's absence. Other survivors of the shelling such as Carwood Lipton and Donald Malarkey would step in to hold E Company together.
Compton was not an original Toccoa man, having joined E Company in England. He had not suffered through Captain Sobel as the others did. And so his level of bonding with the rest of E Company was not as tight, something that becomes clear from a close reading of this book. After his best friends Guarnere and Toye were mangled in the German shelling, it appears that he lost his closest ties to E Company.
Contrary to the "happy ending" depiction in the HBO series, Compton did not return to E Company at the end of WWII. Officially recovered from trench foot, he was given orders to go back to E Company, but, on his way, stopped in Paris, and there met an old friend who transferred him to another unit that was engaged mostly in playing Army baseball and football.
He states that in hindsight, he should have gone back to E Company, just to set the record straight about his character, but I think the reality at the time was that he knew that his closest friends in E Company were gone by then - dead, wounded, or transferred - and that E Company was now filled with replacement soldiers.
And, unlike Ambrose's description of E Company as a tight brotherhood of friends, Compton would later, at an E Company reunion, be accused by a drunken Lewis Nixon of being a coward. Malarkey would come to Compton's defense (an identical account of this event appears in Malarkey's book).
And so, like all Hollywood movies, like most of history, like Rashomon, the truth is far, far more complex than it seems at first. This has been true for the story of E Company as well.
It is not for us, noncombatants, to judge Compton's character - his service in WWII required far more bravery than most of us could ever muster. Compton is a fine American, who did more than his share in WWII, and then later accomplished even more as a public servant for the state of California. His many other accomplishments in life may in fact have encouraged him to forget about his brief moment in WWII with E Company (he was with them for only for about one year).
The book ends, somewhat jarringly, with Compton's career as a "poor man's Rush Limbaugh", and his fierce diatribe against socialism. As this review is already far too long, I will just say this - he definitely got this part wrong. Socialism and free market capitalism are merely opposite ends of an eternal struggle between doing what is best for all people in society (including the poor and incompetent), versus the need to reward individual initiative and drive. Societies that run to the extremes of one or the other have always been terrible societies. Our goal as Americans should be to find the best balance between the two.