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Maurice Britt

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Kenneth Bridges | History Columnist
Maurice Britt, known to
friends and fellow Arkansans
as “Footsie,” was a widely respected
and admired figure
in the state for both his skills
as an athlete and as a patriot.
Because of his courage during
World War II, he became one
of twenty-five Arkansans to
earn the Congressional Medal
of Honor, the highest military
honor.
Britt was born into a farming
family near Carlisle in Lonoke
County in 1919. The family
moved to Lonoke while he was
still young, where he attended
the local schools. It was in high
school that he earned the nickname
“Footsie,” which would
follow him for years afterward.
Explanations of the name’s
origins varied from his athletic
abilities to his large feet. He
proved an excellent student
as well as a gifted athlete, serving
on Lonoke High School’s
teams in track, basketball, and
football. The popular Britt was
elected president of his senior
class and graduated as valedictorian
in 1937.
He earned an athletic
scholarship to the University
of Arkansas, enrolling in fall
1937. He wrote for the student
newspaper while playing both
football and basketball. He
was considered among the
best college football players
in the nation and was named
an honorable mention to the
All-American team. In 1941, he
graduated from the university
with a degree in journalism.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions
added him to their team
for the 1941 season. However,
he would play only nine games
with the Lions. After the United
States was attacked at Pearl
Harbor and thrust into World
War II, Britt was drafted into
the army. He would never play
professional football again.
Britt was proud to serve
in uniform and was commissioned
as a lieutenant. In 1942
and 1943, he participated in the
Allied invasion of North Africa
and the eventual expulsion of
Nazi forces from Africa. He also
participated in the successful
Allied campaign and Sicily in
1943 and the beginnings of the
invasion of mainland Italy. It
was in Italy that November
that he led a small, badly outnumbered
company against a
heavily armed German force.
In a brutal fight, the Germans
were repelled; and though he
had been shot himself, Britt still
lobbed dozens of grenades at
the German position. For his
courage on that day, he was
awarded the Congressional
Medal of Honor.
In February 1944, he was
critically injured in battle, losing
his right arm. He was honorably
discharged, and hailed
as a hero upon his return. That
fall, he was awarded his Medal
of Honor in a ceremony at the
University of Arkansas.
He was decorated for his
bravery on several occasions,
earning a Distinguished Service
Cross, a Silver Star, and two
Bronze Stars. Britt also earned
four Purple Hearts for serious
injuries sustained in combat on
four different occasions during
the war. When War Memorial
Stadium was dedicated in 1948,
Britt was invited to speak at the
dedication.
In 1966, he was elected
lieutenant governor. Though
narrowly re-elected in 1968,
he declined to run for re-election
in 1970. In 1971, he was
named district director of the
Small Business Administration,
where he served for the next
fourteen years. He attempted
a political comeback in 1986
when he announced a run for
governor. However, he never
made it out of the primary and
afterward settled into retirement
in Little Rock.
He died quietly at his home
in 1995. He received many
honors. Britt was inducted
into the Arkansas Sports Hall of
Fame in 1972. After his death,
the Maurice Britt Army Reserve
Center in North Little Rock was
dedicated in his honor