An Uncommon Hero
by Ann Jamieson
She has her own fan page on Facebook, and her own website. She recently had a two-year-old racehorse named after her, even though she fought in the Korean War and died in 1968. Earning two Purple Hearts, a Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and a Presidential Unit Citation with star, among other military decorations, she was featured in Life Magazine’s “Celebrating Our Heroes” as one of our country’s 100 greatest heroes of all time (along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln).
Reckless was known for her bravery--and her appetite. She was assigned to carry ammunition to the front lines for the 75 mm Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marines. Purchased for $250 by commanding officer Lt. Eric Pederson, the Mongolian mare came from the Seoul Racetrack, and soon proved to be priceless.
Her former owner, young Kim Huk Moon, sold her only because he needed the money to pay for an artificial leg for his sister, Chung Soon, who had lost her leg to a land mine. Reckless originally had been called Flame-in-the-Morning, but the Marines called her Reckless after the nickname for an antitank weapon with a fierce back blast.
Reckless didn’t need to be told how important a good breakfast was to start one’s day. She lived by that rule. Scrambled eggs and pancakes with her morning cup of coffee were her preferred meal in the morning.
Snacks throughout the day were important. Cake, potato chips, peanut butter and jelly, cola, candy bars, all were high on her list of consumables. But it wasn’t just the food that mattered. Reckless demanded attention, and lots of it. If her demands weren’t being met, hats, blankets, and even poker chips made it on to the consumable list. One poker game had to be ended prematurely when it was discovered that Reckless had eaten a stack of poker chips.
Reckless wasn’t particularly fussy about her glassware: cans, cups, canteens, even helmets would do. The Marines always were happy to share whatever they had to eat or drink with her.
When she wasn’t eating, Reckless worked. Carrying rations, grenades, medical supplies, ammunition, and sleeping bags, she earned her pancakes and candy. The steep terrain of Korea was too much for jeeps, but not too much for Reckless. Nimbly navigating the hills, she learned to step over barbed wire, crouch down in foxholes and to head for a bunker when she heard incoming rounds.
The Marines quickly grew to love Reckless both for her bravery and her goofy character, often allowing the pony sized mare (at 14.1 hands) to sleep in their tents with them, shielding her with their flak jackets to protect her.
Reckless is best known for her service during the Battle of Outpost Vegas in March of 1953, one of the most ferocious battles of the war. This five day battle saw Reckless on one day alone make 51 trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites, 95% of the time by herself. Carrying nearly five tons of ammunition over the course of the battle, the little sorrel mare walked over 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep mountains with enemy rounds constantly peppering her. Reckless would carry ammo up the mountain, get unloaded, and then carry wounded Marines down the mountain.
An infantryman who was one of only two to make it off of “Hill Vegas” alive, Harold Wadley remembers seeing Reckless coming up the ridge. “Generally one Marine led Reckless and she brought up ammo. Some of the gun crew were wounded, so they didn’t have an extra Marine. She made that trip all night long by herself. They would tie a wounded Marine on her and turn her around and she’d head down that ridge with all this artillery and mortar coming in. The guys down there would unload the wounded off her and the ammo on her and she would turn around right on her own and head right back up. She knew exactly what her job was.”
Reckless delivered critical ammunition under constant fire, performing her work in a human capacity, unguided by anything but her own enormous desire to serve. The number of lives she saved can’t be counted, and the appearance of the little chestnut mare with the bright white stripe guaranteed a boost in morale.
Her selfless service in this battle not only earned her the respect of all those around her, but also got her promoted to Staff Sergeant, a title never before or since bestowed upon an animal. After all, her courage and dedication to duty defined the word “Marine.”
Wounded twice during the battle, Reckless never stopped. She continued to see further action during the war. After the signing of the truce in July the Marines traveled home, but Reckless, mired in bureaucratic red tape, was left behind. It wasn’t until the Saturday Evening Post ran an article about her in April 1954 that people became aware of her plight. In response, Reckless was offered free transportation on a shipping line by an executive of the line who had read the article. She landed in San Francisco on November 10, 1954.
In retirement Reckless served as mascot of the 1st Marine Division. She attended retirements, promotions, birthdays, and civilian parades. The order had been given that, in recognition of all Sergeant Reckless had done, there was never to be more weight on her back again than a blanket. That order stood. When Reckless went on her daily jog at Camp Pendleton, the Marine who accompanied her did so on foot.
Reckless had four foals, three of whom continued to live with her at Camp Pendleton: Dauntless, Fearless and Chesty. One filly died sadly at only a month old.
Reckless died at the age of 20, and is buried at Camp Pendleton where a monument to her stands at Stepp Stables. But her story is just beginning. A YouTube video (http://youtu.be/YIo3ZfA9da0) has garnered hundreds of thousands of views, a new book is being written, and a movie and a monument in or near the Korean War Memorial are planned. This game little mare was an inspiration to all those who knew her, and her story will continue to inspire all those who didn’t.
Check out her website (www.sgtreckless.com) or get the book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sgt-Reckless-Americas-War-Horse/dp/1621573818/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1505689580&sr=1-1&keywords=sgt+reckless+america%27s+war+horse
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