By Sgt. Dan Polier

ATLANTA, GA.—The right side of the Detroit Lions’ line is doing all right in this war. Tackle Jon Tripson, USNR won the Silver Star in the North African Invasion and End Maurice (Footsy) Britt picked up the Congressional Medal of Honor, British Military Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart in the Italian campaign.

Until somebody digs down into the history books and finds where some ancient bareknuckle fighter won the Congressional Medal in the Spanish-American War, we will stick by Britt as the only professional athlete to win the award.

Maurice Britt MOH WW2

Maurice Britt and his wife Jane at Lawson General Hospital.

Britt’s story, as he tells it from a bed in Lawson General Hospital, where he is recuperating from the loss of his right arm, sounds like something a Hollywood script writer might have dreamed up in an opium den. It makes better reading than all his football exploits put together. Better, for instance, than when he caught a touchdown pass in the last three minutes of play to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 21-17. Or the afternoon when he snagged 10 passes to set up every one of Arkansas’ touchdowns in a 27-12 victory over a great Tulsa team.

Probably the best way to tell Britt’s story is to tell how he won each of his medals. His first two decorations, the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, came at Acerno when the 3rd Division was making its big push to Naples. Maurice Britt, then a first lieutenant, took over command of Company L when its commander was wounded and led it in an all-day running battle against a battalion of Germans.

The Germans threw everything in the book, including tanks, at Britt’s rifle company, but he held on and even gained ground. One machine-gun nest in particular, tucked away in a cornfield, was raising all kinds of hell with the company, Britt sent a couple of men to knock it out, but they couldn’t locate it. Finally Britt went after it himself. The Germans picked him up with machine-gun fire at 60 yards, but he managed to crawl within 40 yards and let go with an antitank grenade. He kayoed them with the first one.

Shortly afterward Maurice Britt was wounded in the leg by mortar fire, but he refused to be evacuated. He stuck with his company until Acerno had been captured. For all of this he was given the Silver Star and Purple Heart.

Britt added the Congressional Medal of Honor and the British Cross to his collection at Mount Rotundo in November. His company was holding two high peaks flanking the road to Rome and during the night the Germans surprised and captured a machine-gun crew holding the right flank by yelling confused orders in English. When Britt was making his rounds the next morning he saw the captured machine-gun crew strolling toward him from the German lines in thick brush.

“At first it didn’t sink through my thick skull that the Germans were using our men as a shield,” he said. “Their trap might have worked, but one German eight-ball—there’s one in every Army—cut loose with his machine pistol and started screaming, ‘Surrender, surrender.’ I yelled to the prisoners to take off and then started firing myself. Most of the prisoners got away, but we couldn’t move. Behind us was an open field, which meant it would have been suicide to withdraw, and ahead of us were Germans. God knows how many. They seemed to be everywhere.”

Maurice Britt MOH WW2

Maurice Britt after being presented his Medal of Honor

What took place during the next two hours was nothing short of a miracle. Britt and eight men fought Germans on three sides without losing a man and only two of them were wounded. Britt covered the woods like a roving center. He threw grenades—somebody said he threw 33, but he didn’t stop to count them—and fired anything he could lay his hands on, including some of the enemy’s stuff. He knocked out one machine-gun nest, killing five or eight Germans, just as they were leveling down on Cpl. Eric Gibson. With the help of Gibson, he got another nest, killing four more men. He was wounded three times, once in the leg by a bullet and in the hip and back by mortar fire. His canteen was punctured and his binoculars were shattered, but despite all of this he kept moving forward. Standing up, too.

When the Germans withdrew, Brit counted 35 enemy dead and found four Krauts left behind wounded. One of the wounded told him the Germans used 100 men in an effort to surround the eight Americans. “When I heard that, I got really frightened,” he said.

Britt not only saved his own company by repulsing the German counterattack, but he kept his battalion from being cut off and isolated and at the same time protected a British company on his other flank. The British gave him the Military Cross, which corresponds to our DSC, and we have him an Oak Leaf Cluster for his Purple Heart and the Medal of Honor. And as a Christmas present, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark gave him a battlefield promotion to captain.

Later at Anzio, Maurice Britt lost his right arm while directing artillery fire from a farmhouse. A shell from a German Mark IV came whistling through the window and blew off his arm below the elbow and fractured every bone in his foot.

“They couldn’t hit me again if they fired at that window every day for two months,” philosophized Brit. “It was strictly a lucky shot.”

Britt isn’t sure what he will do after the war. He has several offers to coach football including one from his old high school in Lonoke, Ark., and a radio station in Indianapolis wants to hire him at a fancy price as a news commentator.

“But I might become a sports writer,” he said, grinning. “That sounds like an easy life.”

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