Who was first NFL player to receive Congressional Medal of Honor?
The highest award in the American military, the Congressional Medal of Honor has only been awarded to three men who played in the National Football League: Maurice Britt, Joe Foss, and Jack Lummus. Britt was the first player to be awarded the Medal of Honor, receiving his in 1944. Midway through his 1941 rookie season, the bombing of Pearl Harbor compelled Britt to end his career at tight end with the Detroit Lions. He had just one catch for the Lions, a 45-yard completion.
In 1943, Joe Foss, who became the first commissioner of the American Football League, earned his Medal of Honor as an ace fighter over Guadalcanal.
Lummus, the only other NFL player to be awarded the Medal of Honor, died on March 8, 1945, in the Battle of Iwo Jima. Lummus was one of the 6,821 Marines who died at Iwo Jima and was awarded posthumous Medals of Honor. Halfway through his rookie season with the New York Giants, Lummus enlisted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Capt. Maurice Britt
June 29, 1919 – November 26, 1995
- 1941 13th-round pick (115th overall) from University of Arkansas
- Detroit Lions, E
- 1941 – Britt managed just one reception in the NFL (though it was a 45-yard completion) before enlisting in the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He played just nine games in his lone NFL season before being sent to the European theater of war.
- 1944 – Lost his right arm in a battle in Anzio, Italy, which led to him being awarded to the Medal of Honor the same year.
- First NFL player to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor
- Became first U.S. soldier to be awarded the following three awards in the same war: Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, and Silver Star. (Audie Murphy was second).
- Here is his official Citation from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society: 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 firefight, 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 Ml rifle ammunition, and threw 32 fragmentation grenades. His bold, aggressive actions, utterly disregarding superior enemy numbers, resulted in the 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.
Dan Daly, The National Football League, pp 181-182.
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