Friday, March 18, 2016

TOP STORY >> Building named after hero

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke High School Army JROTC on Wednesday dedicated its building to Second World War hero Capt. Maurice L. Britt. The Lonoke graduate was a Medal of Honor recipient, a lieutenant governor and an NFL football player.

According to the Encyclo-pedia of Arkansas History and Culture, Britt was born in Carlisle on June 29, 1919, and was raised in Lonoke. He graduated from Lonoke High School in 1937 as valedictorian. As a 12th grader, he was elected class president and served as captain of the basketball, football and track teams. Britt’s nickname was “Footsie” because of his size 13 shoes.

Britt received an athletic scholarship to the University of Arkansas, where he played football and basketball. He was sports editor of the student newspaper Arkansas Traveler. Britt graduated from the Fayetteville college in 1941 with a degree in journalism.

He was in the ROTC program when he was commissioned as a second lieutenant of infantry in the Army Reserves, according to retired Lt. Col. Paul Brown, Lonoke High School’s ROTC instructor.

Britt was drafted into the NFL by the Detroit Lions. He played football for one season and scored one touchdown before being called to duty in the Second World War after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

He was a platoon commander in the Third Infantry Division campaigns in Africa, Sicily and Italy.

Britt was severely wounded on Feb. 12, 1944, during a fight against the Germans in Italy. He lost his right arm. Britt was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and the Medal of Honor.

In 1948, he gave the dedication speech for War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

After the war, Britt and his family lived in Fort Smith and worked at a furniture manufacturing company owned by his wife’s family.

In 1963, he moved to Little Rock and started an aluminum product manufacturing business.

In 1966, Britt became the first Republican in the state elected as lieutenant governor since the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. He served two terms, until 1971.

He was offered the position of district director for the Small Business Administration by President Richard Nixon in 1971, a position Britt held until 1985.

In 1986, he ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Britt died on Nov. 26, 1995, in Little Rock, at the age of 76.

The Lonoke High School Army JROTC program was established in 2010. The cadets there learned about Britt and wanted to honor him.

Lonoke School Superintendent Suzanne Bailey said, “When Col. Brown brought this dedication to the attention of the school board, they gave it their full support.”

State Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) spoke to the cadets about changes to guard against.

“It is an honor to have freedom of speech and an honor to own a weapon or gun. It is an honor (to have) free press and to live in a country that you can go to the church that you want to go to. They are rights that we must guard against. Those are changes we can never allow to take place. We have got to guard against that with everything in our might,” Williams said.

“There are changes that will take place that will just happen, and we’ll embrace them. But, when you start talking about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the things that made this country great, we better guard against those changes,” the senator said.

“We are built on a foundation that is not very broad but deep. We must guard those building blocks to the point that we are willing to suit up and protect those rights,” Williams continued.

“Footsie Britt did that. My dad did that landing on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He told me stories long before I saw ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ I believed it, but I couldn’t imagine it being that bad. He told me he got off the Higgins boat and the bodies in the water were three to four deep as he walked to the shore,” Williams said.

“These were people who said we are going to protect those rights. It’s not a game. It is a way of life we are going to protect. I ask of you young people, the most honorable thing you can do for America is to suit up and protect those rights, to be willing to stand up and give your life,” he said.

Williams said the U.S. is one of the few countries that still have the same Constitution that they started with. Most are constantly changing, but the U.S. has not changed because the rights have been held and protected with lives and we must be willing to do that again. “If I was asked to suit up today, we’d defend this great country and go back to war again,” the senator said.

Lonoke High School Principal Marc Sherrell said he has a military background and enjoys watching the program. It takes him back when he was younger.

“We need to promote and protect this program in this community,” Sherrell said.

He said the JROTC cadets are the ones in the high school’s halls that don’t get into trouble, so you don’t see them a lot. When they are over at the JROTC side, they rise up and take on the leadership role, Sherrell added.