The Korean War was a bloody conflict that created many heroes of all shapes, sizes and...species. Sergeant Reckless was a horse, but she was so much more than that. An almost forgotten war heroine, she received a Purple Heart for wounds received during combat and demonstrated extreme bravery under fire with all the fierce valor of any marine worth his or her salt. (See my article on Sergeant Brown and Rocky.)
Sergeant Reckless has recently been rediscovered
A screenwriter from Los Angeles is credited with reviving public attention to this almost forgotten war heroine. Robin Hutton has written a beautiful book, Sgt. Reckless, America's War Horse, and has also tirelessly and successfully led a three-year campaign to erect a 12-foot high bronze statue of the brave mare. Sculpted by Jocelyn Russell, it will stand forever at Camp Pendleton, California. She lived there until her death in 1968. Hutton says: "I thought this was the greatest horse story I had never heard about." (See my article on The Dog Who Took A Bite Out of Isis).
The heroic deeds of Sergeant Reckless
Her story began in 1952 at the height of the Korean War. A young lieutenant with the 5th Marine Regiment named Eric Pederson was granted permission to purchase a pack animal to transport heavy ammunition to his Marines on the deadly front lines of battle. He paid $250 for the Mongolian mare. he bought her at a South Korean race-track from a youth who desperately needed funds for his sister's medical care. Her name came from the recoil-less rifle platoon to which she was assigned.
Sergeant Reckless learned fast and was a brave marine
The horse proved to be worth her weight in gold and then some. She learned quickly how to survive as a soldier vulnerable to enemy attack; ducking beneath barbed wire; laying flat if caught amid gunfire on open ground and running for the shelter of the bunker in the face of flying artillery or mortars. She bravely transported wounded marines back from the front lines of battle and shells for the 75 mm rifle, each of which weighed more than 20 pounds. Her platoon leaders often sent her into the fray with four to six rounds on her back. (See my article on Lucca: A Dog For All Seasons.)
She was a horse without a herd with which to bond
Sgt. Reckless bonded with her fellow marines, as there were no other horses in the platoon. One marine, Harold Wadley from Idaho, had this to say about the horse he served so proudly with so long ago: "On cold winter nights, you'd find her nestled among her marines by the oil stove. Horses and marines are a lot alike. They are both herd animals requiring leadership..."
Camp Pendleton honors this brave, four-legged marine who served her country well
At a recent ceremony at Camp Pendelton honoring the valiant mare and unveiling a bronze statue, Wadley recalled with great emotion a day in March of 1953. The enemy suddenly attacked the platoon known as Outpost Vegas. Reckless made 51 trips back and forth from the front lines to re-supply the guns. In addition, this incredible animal carried 386 rounds, totaling more than 9,000 pounds. Horses have super hearing to compensate for their poor eyesight, and the sounds of explosions must have terrified her. Still, she kept on going. She tirelessly trekked 35 miles up and down steep mountain ridges, transporting the wounded to safety.
According to Hadley: It was like the sky was falling...I didn't have near enough stretchers...I looked back at the eastern skyline through all the smoke and could hardly believe my eyes... The silhouette of a heavily-laden came in and out of view along the ridge. It was Reckless. All alone,scrambling in the torn earth to keep her footing."
She also had a sens of humor. Corporal Michael Mason recalled that Reckless would awaken him and his bunk-mate who was the cook, at 6 am every morning, sticking her nose inside the tent. She would yank the blanket off the bed until he got up and fed her. "She was one of us and she outranked most of us," he said with a smile.
Standing before the bronze statue dedicated in her honor in front of Camp Pendleton's Pacific Views Events Center, Harold Wadley sees so much more than just a horse. He said: "She represents a whole lot more than herself. When I see her, I know that's our 5th Marine Regiment, and all the guys we lost...There are just a lot of ghosts."
Ultimately, Reckless transcended being a horse to become and remain for always...a courageous and loyal marine.
See also: Bretagne