Maurice Britt

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Maurice Lee "Footsie" Britt
Nickname(s) "Footsie"
Born (1919-06-29)June 29, 1919
Carlisle, Arkansas
Died November 26, 1995(1995-11-26) (aged 76)
Little Rock, Arkansas
Place of burial National Cemetery in Little Rock, Arkansas
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1941 - 1944
Rank Captain
Unit Company L, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War II
Awards Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star
Bronze Star (2)
Army Commendation Medal
Purple Heart (4)
Presidential Unit Citation
Combat Infantryman Badge
British Military Cross
Italian Military Medal for Valor
Other work NFL football player
Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas

Maurice Lee "Footsie" Britt (June 29, 1919 – November 26, 1995), was an American professional football player, Medal of Honor recipient of World War II, businessman, and Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas. He played for the Detroit Lions in 1941 and later served as the seventh Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas during the administration of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller from 1967 to 1971. Rockefeller and Britt were the first Republicans to serve in the state of Arkansas's top two offices since Reconstruction.

Early life[edit]

He was born Maurice Britt in Carlisle, Arkansas, the son of Maurice Lee and Virgie Britt.[1] His family moved to nearby Lonoke when he was a boy. He received the nickname "Footsie" after winning a pair of shoes at a local fair as an adolescent. He was also known for his size-thirteen feet. He graduated as the valedictorian of Lonoke High School in 1937. He entered the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was supported by an athletic scholarship in both football and basketball. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and an Army Reserve commission as a Second Lieutenant of Infantry through Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps upon graduation in 1941. He played professional football with the Detroit Lions during the 1941 season. He was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

World War II[edit]

US Army[edit]

Britt entered active duty in December 1941 as a second lieutenant at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. He was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division during training at Fort Lewis, Washington, Fort Ord, California, and Camp Pickett, Virginia. He had received a partial deferment to entering active duty until after the 1941 football season. He initially joined the 3rd Division and participated in coastal defense on the west coast of the United States. On October 23, 1942 the 30th Infantry and the 3rd Division embarked for North Africa.

North Africa

On November 8, 1942, he was a platoon leader in Company L when the 3rd Infantry Division and two other U.S Army divisions landed during the invasion of French North Africa under Major General George S. Patton, Jr. who was in command of the Western Forces. Britt and his unit landed at the North African beach at Casablanca, French Morocco.[2] The 30th Infantry came on shore and quickly secured the left flank of the 3rd Division and silenced Fort Blondin in the process which had been firing on the naval forces lying off the Moroccan coast. By November 11, the 30th Infantry and the 3rd Division had secured Casablanca. In January 1943, the 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry were assigned to personal guard duty for Sir Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Casablanca Conference. At the end of the North African Campaign, the 3rd Division began training in Bizerte, Tunisia for the invasion of Sicily.

Italy

Britt continued to serve as a platoon leader during the amphibious invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943. The 3rd Battalion, 30th Infantry executed one of the longest foot marches in modern military history, from near Gela northward to Palermo. The 3rd Battalion marched 54 miles in only 33 hours. Palermo was captured on July 22. Britt led his men through the combat and extensive marching from Palermo to Messina in Sicily.

On September 19, 1943, Britt participated in the amphibious landings in Salerno, Italy during the invasion of Italy (Operation Avalanche). This was his third amphibious assault landing of the war. He took command of Company L after his company commander was wounded and evacuated. On September 22, he led an assault on Acerno, Italy which was 10 miles from Salerno, and destroyed an enemy machine gun position. The 30th Infantry captured Acerno and he received a Silver Star for gallantry in action and his first of four Purple Hearts.[3] By early October 1943, the whole of southern Italy was in Allied hands, and the Allied armies faced the Volturno Line, the first of a series of prepared defensive lines running across Italy from which the Germans chose to fight delaying actions, giving ground slowly and buying time to complete their preparation of the Winter Line, their strongest defensive line south of Rome. Britt led his men in the river crossing on the Volturno River. For his actions at Pietravairano on October 29, Britt received the Bronze Star Medal with "V" device.[4] For his actions above and beyond the call of duty on the assault of Monte Retundo on November 10, north of Mignano, in central Italy, he received the Medal of Honor, British Military Cross, Italian Military Medal for Valor, and a battlefield promotion to captain.[5]

He was part of the initial invasion at Anzio on January 22, 1944 (Operation Shingle). On January 23, in one instance at the Pontine Marshes, he did calisthenics in order to get a hidden German machine gun position to expose itself so it could be destroyed. Thereafter American units in the area referred to the intersection there as "Britt's Junction".[6] His actions on January 22 and 23 (lost part of his right arm) at the Anzio beachhead near Latina[7] earned him the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism.[8]

In February 1944, he was evacuated to the United States for medical treatment at Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta.[9] While recuperating from his wounds, he participated in a War Bond tour. He received an honorable discharge on December 27, 1944.

Maurice Britt became the first recipient of the top four combat decorations for valor awarded to an infantryman by the US Army during World War II.

Medal of Honor[edit]

Britt's Medal of Honor Citation reads:

Medal of Honor

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Disdaining enemy hand grenades and close-range machine pistol, machinegun, and rifle, Lt. Britt inspired and led a handful of his men in repelling a bitter counterattack by approximately 100 Germans against his company positions north of Mignano, Italy, the morning of 10 November 1943. During the intense fire fight, Lt. Britt's canteen and field glasses were shattered; a bullet pierced his side; his chest, face, and hands were covered with grenade wounds. Despite his wounds, for which he refused to accept medical attention until ordered to do so by his battalion commander following the battle, he personally killed 5 and wounded an unknown number of Germans, wiped out one enemy machinegun crew, fired 5 clips of carbine and an undetermined amount of M1 rifle ammunition, and threw 32 fragmentation grenades. His bold, aggressive actions, utterly disregarding superior enemy numbers, resulted in capture of 4 Germans, 2 of them wounded, and enabled several captured Americans to escape. Lt. Britt's undaunted courage and prowess in arms were largely responsible for repulsing a German counterattack which, if successful, would have isolated his battalion and destroyed his company.

Post-war: Business and politics[edit]

After the war, he briefly attended the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville but left the institution to enter business. He spent twenty years working at a furniture manufacturing company and then running the Beautyguard Manufacturing Company, a producer of aluminum building products.

In 1966, he was elected lieutenant governor, when the incumbent Democrat, Nathan Green Gordon, did not seek reelection.[10] He was re-elected in 1968 but did not seek a third term in 1970, having deferred to his friend and Little Rock neighbor, Sterling R. Cockrill, a Democrat-turned-Republican, who ran unsuccessfully on Winthrop Rockefeller's losing GOP ticket that year. Britt barely defeated the Democratic nominees, James H. Pilkington of Hope in 1966 and Bill Wells in 1968. He was a lifelong Arkansas Republican, having been active in his state's Young Republicans in college. Neal Sox Johnson, the first paid executive director of the Arkansas GOP, said that he believed Rockefeller should have stepped down in 1970, and Britt should have been the gubernatorial nominee. Rockefeller was unseated that year by the Democrat Dale L. Bumpers.[11] As Rockefeller and Britt left office, two legislative Republicans remained behind, State Senator Jim R. Caldwell and Representative Preston Bynum, both of Benton County in far northwestern Arkansas.

After leaving office, Britt was appointed by the Nixon administration as district director of the Small Business Administration. He served in that capacity from 1971 to 1985.

In 1986, Britt came out of political retirement to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination. He polled only 3,116 votes (13.9 percent) to 13,831 ballots (61.9 percent) for former Governor Frank D. White. A third candidate, Wayne Lanier, received 4,576 votes (20.5 percent) in a low-turnout primary. White was thereafter defeated in the general election for a second time by future U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Britt was a leader in civic affairs too. He was past state chairman of the Crippled Children's Hospital, Easter Seals, and the Federal Executive Association. He was a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and received the National Collegiate Athletic Association Sports Achievement Award.

Death[edit]

Britt died of heart failure in the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock. He was one of two lieutenant governors in state history to lie in state in the State Capitol Rotunda, the other being Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, the son of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. The coffin was open, and Britt's military coat hung from the back of his favorite rocking chair, which was placed next to the body. His medals and a military cap were placed on a nearby table. An Army Sergeant stood at the head of the casket throughout the six hours that Britt lay in state.

Services were held in the Calvary Baptist Church of Little Rock, where Britt was a member. Burial was in Little Rock National Cemetery.

Family[edit]

Britt had three daughters, Andrea Schafer and Nancy McDurmont, both of Lonoke, and Patricia Anne Britt of Falls Church, Virginia; two sons, Maurice Lee Britt, III (born ca. 1950), and his wife, Dee Britt, of Royal, Arkansas, and Timothy Watson Britt (born ca. 1955) of Little Rock; one brother, B. A. Britt (born ca. 1925) of Carlisle; twelve grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Britt's wife died shortly before his own death. Britt was a distant cousin of the late Henry M. Britt of Hot Springs, the 1960 Republican gubernatorial nominee against Orval Eugene Faubus. He was a cousin to internationally known actress Dorothy Lamour. [4]

Personal honors[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ [1] The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
  2. ^ [2] ARMY Magazine, Association of the United States Army, May 2008, "My Favorite Lion, Maurice Britt", By Lt. Col. Jack Mason, p. 72
  3. ^ [3] ARMY Magazine, May 2008, p. 73.
  4. ^ [4] ARMY Magazine, May 2008, p. 73.
  5. ^ [5] ARMY Magazine, May 2008, p.73&74. Retrieved January 16, 2014,
  6. ^ [6] ARMY Magazine, May 2008. p. 74&75.
  7. ^ [7] ww2awards.com
  8. ^ [8] ARMY Magazine, May 2008, p. 75. Retrieved January 16, 2014.
  9. ^ [9] ARMY Magazine, May 2008, p. 76
  10. ^ Arkansas Lieutenant Governor, State of Arkansas.
  11. ^ Cathy Kunzinger Urwin, Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller as Governor of Arkansas, 1967-71 (Fayetteville, Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 1991), p. 174
  12. ^ [10] Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, Inductees

References[edit]

  • "Maurice Britt". Claim to Fame: Medal of Honor recipients. Find a Grave. Retrieved 2007-11-08. 
  • Rachel O'Neal, "Arkansans pay their respects to Britt, ex-lieutenant governor", Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 29, 1995
  • Britt obituary information, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 29, 1995
  • "Encyclopedia of Arkansas". Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Nathan Green Gordon
Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas

Maurice Lee "Footsie" Britt
1967–1971

Succeeded by
Bob Cowley Riley