Vet will be honored at Tide game

Published 7:15 pm Friday, October 17, 2008

Prior to the Alabama-Mississippi football game this afternoon, a Demopolis native will be honored for helping to bring victories, but with another team.

Bryan Whitfield Compton, who retired from the U.S. Navy in 1982 as a rear admiral, will be the latest prominent military figure to be honored at an Alabama home game, a tradition the Crimson Tide began in 2004.

Compton will be presented an American flag by the University of Alabama Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program prior to the National Anthem, and there will be a military flyover.

Email newsletter signup

He is scheduled to be honored during the pre-game show, which begins at 2:18 p.m. The National Anthem is set to be played at 2:24. The game will be televised locally on WAKA-TV (Demopolis CATV Channel 8), and will be carried regionally by the CBS network.

In his military career as a Navy pilot, Compton had more than 5,500 flight hours and 1,116 carrier landings. He is a holder of the Navy Cross, six Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star Medal, 19 Air Medals, three Navy Unit Commendations and one Navy Commendation Medal.

A 1951 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Compton earned his Navy wings in May 1953. He had numerous commands, including being the first captain of the super-carrier U.S.S. Nimitz, and served two combat tours in Vietnam.

During one of those tours, Compton was in command of the flight wing that included current Presidential candidate John McCain. McCain was shot down over Hanoi, but Compton continued to circle, providing cover for as long as he could. McCain later called Compton “the bravest man I ever knew.”

“I had served with John McCain on the Intrepid in ‘59, or something like that,” Compton said, “but he had been in a Spad squadron, and I was in an A-4 squadron. Then, in ‘67, he had been on the Forrestal, and they had a fire on there just as they had gotten on the line. As a matter of fact, I think he was in the plane that they were testing – a rocket launcher. It ignited the rocket, and I think it hit his flight deck. There were about 130 people killed on the Forrestal.

“He went back to the States, but within 30 days, he was on the Oriskany in Japan in late September, then he was shot down on the 26th of October.

“We were making another strike on the power plant,” he said. “I was flying a Walleye, which is kind of a self-guided bomb – you release it, and it guides itself to the target – and he was coming in as an iron bomber, and he got hit by a missile just as he got to the target. He parachuted out and landed right in a lake right in the center of Hanoi.

“John had a lot of class. His family is an old Mississippi family. His grandfather was an admiral, and his father was a submariner, and he ended up being in charge of the Pacific fleet when his son was shot down. Of course, that put the son in an awkward position (serving under his father).”

After McCain’s plane was hit, Compton dropped his Walleye and circled around.

“I got a couple of pictures of the thermal power plant,” he said. “We had bombed this same power plant in August, but this time, they had put up a smoke screen around the power plant as a countermeasure. That was what was so frustrating about the Vietnam War: We really didn’t fight it like we intended to win it. We’d telegraph everything we were doing, and then wait for them to react. It was discouraging that we weren’t committed as much as we acted like, and you see that today.”

Onboard the Nimitz, Compton felt like he was able to make an impact.

“I was the first skipper,” he said, “and I had the job long enough that I felt like I could have an impact on what you were doing. If you get rotated too fast, people say, ‘Well, he’s about to leave; we don’t really have to do what he says. He’s only going to be here six months.’ You run into that in any organization. The service is no different.

“We were in the Arabian Gulf for six months on the America. We were the first big ship to really go through the Suez Canal, and it was kind of a weird feeling. I had been on the Enterprise in ‘63 and ‘64, and we went on a round-the-world tour, but we didn’t go through the Suez Canal. We went around the Cape of Good Hope, landed there in Karachi near Pakistan, and went to Western Australia. That was a wonderful place; they always welcomed the Navy.”

Compton attained the rank of admiral in 1976, and retired from the Navy in 1982. Born in San Angelo, Texas, he spent most of his civilian life in Demopolis after coming here to be with his grandfather when he contracted tuberculosis.