A Real War Horse: Sgt. Reckless, Korean War Hero
Heroes come in all sizes and shapes – and species. This is the story of a real “War Horse” and her name was Sgt. Reckless.
The Korean War is known as the Forgotten War and Sgt. Reckless — although popular in her time – was all but forgotten, too. We are all familiar with the admired animals of the day including Rin-Tin-Tin, Mr. Ed, Lassie and Seabiscuit. But unless you were of a literate age in 1954 – when The Saturday Evening Post shared her story with the world – you’ve probably never heard of Sgt. Reckless.
The Story of Reckless
A Korean youngster, Kim Huck Moon, sold the racehorse for $250 to U.S. Marine Lieutenant Eric Pedersen. The boy didn’t really want to sell his horse but did it because his older sister, Chung Soon, had lost her leg in a mine accident and needed a prosthetic. In Part I of a 1955 book written by Andrew Geer about the little red mare Kim had named Flame-in-the-Morning (Ah Chim Hai), he describes in detail how Kim came to sell her to Lt. Pedersen.
Reckless got her American name from the nickname of the weapon used by the 75mm (millimeter) Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marines. The anti-tank weapon had a brutal back blast. The platoon was also affectionately known as Reckless Rifles.
The horse was trained to step over communication lines, ignore battle sounds and get down when incoming fire arrived. The little Mongolian mare weighed only 900 pounds and was used to transport ammunition for the company. She ended up providing much more than that when she transported injured soldiers back to base camp and provided cover for soldiers during battle. And amazingly, she did this all on her own.
In one particularly bloody battle — Outpost Vegas in March, 1953 — Reckless made 51 trips up steep hills and through rice paddies carrying ammo and saving soldiers. She carried over 9,000 pounds of ammunition that day and covered more than 35 miles. Artillery was exploding at the rate of over 500 rounds per minute.
You can listen to a first-hand account by Harold Wadly — a soldier who witnessed Reckless in Korea — in a radio broadcast. This battle took place mostly at night so Reckless was given the nickname of “Nightmare,” affectionately intended.
She was injured twice in this battle; once in her left flank, and once above an eye. Her ears were also hurt from barbed wire, but the injury was not a serious one. She was awarded two purple hearts for her troubles. Reckless fought so bravely, she was officially promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps while in Korea. And she retired with the additional rank of Staff Sergeant at Camp Pendleton, California.
Other medals include the Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with star, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. She wore them proudly on her red and gold blanket whenever she was paraded around at official functions and simple fun outings.
Photo of Reckless with recoilless rifle used with permission from Robin Hutton
The Campaign for Reckless
Now, an animal lover named Robin Hutton discovered the story of Sgt. Reckless and is determined to bring it to national attention.
Five years ago, while doing research for a television series on horse racing, Robin felt like she needed some inspiration. So she started reading horse stories. She found a doozie about Sgt. Reckless in the book “Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul.”
Inspired by the story of Reckless — a story she had never heard of — she decided then and there to set out on a mission to bring Reckless out of history’s shadow. The amazing story grew in her heart when she discovered a special edition of Life Magazine from May 1997 naming Reckless one of the 100 greatest American heroes, accompanying the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
Over the past five years, Robin has written a book titled “Sgt. Reckless, America’s War Horse” and penned a movie script about this inspiring equine Marine. She hosts a website, SgtReckless.com, showcasing Reckless’ biography and maintains the official Sgt. Reckless Fan Club page on Facebook. More near to her heart is her efforts to erect not one, but two memorials to Reckless.
Artist Jocelyn Russell has been commissioned to create the statue of Reckless. Progress of the work can be seen on her website. Robin would like to see a memorial on both the east and west coast.
The Marine base at Camp Pendleton is where Reckless resided after she was brought back from Korea. A memorial is planned for the California camp.
Robin was also hoping to get a statue of Reckless at the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C. but has been informed it will not be possible, for two reasons. One, the Korean War memorial is on land set aside for no more building and two, the Commemorative Works Act from the 1980s prohibits animals from being represented in Washington D.C. parks.
Not easily dissuaded, Robin’s second choice is at the USMC museum at Quantico, Virginia. She has established a 501(c)3 charitable organization to raise funds for the projects. Russell is also making a bust of Reckless that will be sent to any donor of $5,000 or above.
Some have raised concerns that the recent success of Steven Spielberg’s film “War Horse” may be poor timing for a story about Sgt. Reckless. A 30 second spot about Sgt. Reckless is running in select theaters showing “War Horse” and refers the viewer to their website. That leads to Equine Welfare Alliance, an organization fighting the recent legalization in the U.S. of horses — once again — being slaughtered for foreign horse meat consumers.
Reckless died in May 1968 at the age of 20 years and is buried at Camp Pendleton. She had three offspring after her return to U.S. soil. Her first was a colt named Fearless in 1957. Dauntless followed in 1959 and Chesty in 1962.
If Reckless’ story inspires you, visit the website, become a fan on Facebook and help move the memorial along to fruition by letting your legislators know about this inspiring war hero. The book is tentatively scheduled for release in April or May of this year.
When I asked Robin why she became so enamored with the Reckless story, she responded “Because she was such a hoot!” She proceeded to inform me of Reckless’ well… reckless reputation for eating anything and everything; food or inanimate objects.
Some of the items she ingested were poker chips and an Australian bush hat. Of course, none of the marines could keep her away from her love of scrambled eggs, Hershey bars and candy — not to mention coffee and beer. It was reported she even enjoyed sharing the soldier’s c-rations. If she liked that, she would like anything!