Sunday, November 10, 2013

TFH 11/10: Captain Maurice L. Britt, Jr., USA

Maurice Lee Britt, Jr. was born on June 29, 1919 in Carlisle, Arkansas. He was later a star football player for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks and graduated with the class of 1941. He was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps in college, and received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve at his college graduation.

Britt's military service was deferred as he was granted permission to play the 1941 season for the National Football League's Detroit Lions. His service couldn't be delayed after the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and he began active service with the United States Army and the 30th Infantry Regiment, at that time assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division.

Britt landed with the 3rd Infantry Division during the attacks on both North Africa and Sicily. After those two campaigns, he also took part in the Invasion of Italy. During the Italian Campaign, he repeatedly exhibited superior valor under fire, and became the first man to earn the United States' top three awards for courage in the same conflict.

He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions on October 29, 1943. Less than two weeks later, then Lieutenant Britt was leading his men in the defense when, even though wounded multiple times, fought on either alone or accompanied by just a small number of fellow soldiers and repelled a much larger German enemy force. This action on November 10, 1943 ultimately saw him receive the Medal of Honor.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (A-F):

Photo from Military Times' Hall of Valor

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, Ark.
G.O. No.: 23, 24 March 1944

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.

About two months later on January 24, 1944, Britt filled his "gap" between the Silver Star and Medal of Honor when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. His war ended on February 12, 1944 when he was grievously wounded by an exploding artillery shell. While he did survive, it was at the cost of losing his right arm.

Britt was active in both business and politics back in Arkansas after the war, including a three two-year terms as Lieutenant Governor from 1967-1971. The man he succeeded as Lieutenant Governor, Nathan G. Gordon, was also a World War II Medal of Honor recipient! (Gordon's Medal is from actions on February 15, 1944; check back with Their Finest Hour on February 15, 2014 to read about it!)

Britt late in life; photo from Human Events
Maurice Britt passed away due to heart failure at age 76 on November 26, 1995. He was laid to rest in the Little Rock National Cemetery in Arkansas.

The present day 3rd Infantry Division is headquartered at Fort Stewart, Georgia.

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