Maurice Lee Britt
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)
Maurice Lee 'Footsie' Britt, Jr.
Captain Maurice Lee "Footsie" Britt, Jr. was an American professional football player; World War II hero who received the Medal of Honor; businessman; and Republican politician from Arkansas. He played for the Detroit Lions and later served from 1967-1971 as the seventh Lieutenant Governor of his home state during the administration of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller. Rockefeller and Britt were the first Republicans to have served in their state's top two offices since Reconstruction.
Maurice Lee Britt, Jr. was born on 29 June 1919 in Carlisle, AR, to Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Britt, Sr. Britt was reared in nearby Lonoke. He earned the nickname "Footsie" after winning a pair of shoes at a local fair as an adolescent; he was also known for his big feet. He graduated as the valedictorian of Lonoke High School and then entered the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was supported by an athletic scholarship in both football and basketball. He earned an Army Reserve commission as a second lieutenant through the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps upon graduation. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1941 and played football with the Lions during the 1941 season. He is a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity.
World War II
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Britt entered the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant at Camp Robinson, AR, in the 3rd Infantry Division (ID) in the 30th Infantry Regiment. He received a partial deferment to entering active duty until after the 1941 football season. He initially joined the 3rd ID and participated in coastal defense on the west coast of the United States.
As a platoon leader, Britt led his men on the morning of 8 November 1942, under General George S. Patton, Jr., in invading the French North African beaches at Fedela. The U.S. 30th Infantry came on shore and quickly secured the left flank of the division on 8 November. It also silenced Fort Blondin, which had been firing on the naval forces lying off the Moroccan coast. By 11 November, the 30th and 3rd Infantry Divisions had secured Casablanca. Britt led his men through the subsequent combat and campaigns in North Africa. He is jokingly remembered for "chasing Rommel across all of North Africa."
He continued to serve as a platoon leader as part of the "Joss" force during Operation Husky, the amphibious invasion of Sicily. In Operation Husky, Britt led his platoon in numerous combat actions as the 3rd Infantry Division executed one of the longest foot marches in modern military history, from near Gela northward to Palermo. The regiment marched 54 miles in only 33 hours. Britt led his men through the combat and extensive marching from Palermo to Messina in Sicily.
In September 1943, Britt participated in Operation Avalanche, the amphibious landings in Salerno, Italy. This was his third amphibious assault of the war. By early October, 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. During this engagement, he earned the Silver Star and the first of three Purple Hearts.
In February 1944, Britt was fighting in Italy. He was part of the initial invasion at Anzio, where he won a battlefield promotion to Captain. On 10 October 1943, he did calisthenics to draw German fire at the battleground of Mignano, Italy, which his fellow soldiers referred to thereafter as "Britt's Junction." He managed to repel the Germans, but lost his right arm. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism.
Medal of Honor
Rank and organization: Captain (then Lieutenant), U.S. Army, 3d Infantry Division.
Place and date: North of Mignano, Italy, 10 November 1943.
Entered service at: Lonoke, AR. Born: 29 June 1919, Carlisle, AR.
Citation: 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.
Medals and Awards
Medal of Honor
After the war, he briefly attended the University of Arkansas' Fayetteville Law School, but left to enter business. He spent 20 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. 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. Britt barely defeated the Democratic nominees, James H. Pilkinton of Hope in 1966 and Bill Wells in 1968. He was an original Arkansas Republican, having been active in his state's Young Republicans in college. After leaving office, he 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.
Britt had three daughters, Andrea Schafer and Nancy McDurmont, both of Lonoke, and Patricia Anne Britt of Falls Church, VA; two sons, Maurice Lee Britt III (born ca. 1950), and his wife, Dee Britt, of Royal, AR, and Timothy Watson Britt (born ca. 1955) of Little Rock; one brother, B.A. Britt (born ca. 1925) of Carlisle; 12 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. His obituary does not mention his wife because she died about the same time that he expired. Britt was a distant cousin of the late Henry M. Britt of Hot Springs, the 1960 Republican gubernatorial nominee against Orval Eugene Faubus. Britt was also a cousin to internationally known actress Dorothy Lamour.
Death and Burial
Britt died of heart failure in the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock on 26 November 1995. 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 in Little Rock, AR, in Section 20, Grave 319.
|Origin of Nickname/Handle:|
He earned the nickname "Footsie" after winning a pair of shoes at a local fair as an adolescent; he was also known for his big feet.
|Honoree ID: 24||Created by: MHOH|