The Greatest Equine Hero Ever!

Yes, I believe the story of the Korean-born mare, named Sargent Reckless, is one of the greatest recorded stories of how truly heroic and brave horses can be. Reckless served during the Korean War with dignity and valor alongside her fellow Marines of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company of the 5th Marine Regiment. It is an iconic and inspiring tale of true courage which reminds us how much these magnificent creatures are willing to sacrifice to live and serve alongside their human partners. I should wait till Veterans’ Day to post this, but it cannot wait that long! Reckless’ story is one that risks becoming lost just as the living memories of our Korean veterans are being lost as these heroes pass on. But all of their stories need to be honored. And this is one that needs to be sung through the ages.

Reckless was a little sorrel mare with stockings and a blaze purchased off the Korean racetrack for the sum of two hundred and fifty dollars. She was put into service in the Marine Corps by Lieutenant Eric Pedersen, the commander of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon.

The recoilless rifle was a monster of an artillery piece. Meant to be mobile, it was light enough for four men to carry it.  Its recoilless design allowed for a 75 mm round to be accurately fired at an enemy target as far away as seven thousand yards. The recoilless rifle serves as a kind of rocket launcher. As a round is detonated, there is a massive (and loud!) gaseous explosion out the back of the main chamber. This makes for a huge blast, but it imposes much less recoil to knock the piece out of position or alignment.

Lt. Pedersen purchased Reckless to help resupply the units manning the recoilless rifle teams with shells and supplies. The soldiers trained her, fed her, and housed her.  Later, she was given the freedom to roam the Marines’ encampments at will, and was known to stick her head inside the tents at night for some companionship and a treat. On cold nights, she would even lie down on the ground to get closer to the Marines’ stove. She was taught to carry as many as eight of the large shells on a modified packsaddle. She learned to crouch down and take cover if her handlers yelled, “Incoming!” Somehow, Reckless eventually learned to calm herself, even as she had to stand and have artillery rounds off-loaded, alongside the enormous guns as they let out bursts of four or five howling shells at a time.

Reckless alongside one of the 75 mm recoilless rifles she helped to re-supply during the Korean War (Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

Reckless alongside one of the 75 mm recoilless rifles she helped to re-supply during the Korean War (Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

In one single day of fighting to retake a Marine outpost called Vegas, Reckless resupplied gun positions no less than fifty-one times! The artillery units were along a ridge at the top of a hill with nearly forty-five degree slopes. Some of the gun positions were hundreds of yards apart from each other, up treacherous and exposed terrain. The mare made two trips for every one the Marines could make, and often made the treks by herself to resupply the guns. It is estimated that in that single day of fighting, Reckless carried an incredible 386 rounds. That is more than nine thousand pounds of explosives! During the day, Reckless was wounded by shrapnel, first, over the left eye and later, on the left side of her flank. Twice the Marines cleaned her wounds, and twice Reckless launched herself back into the fray. It is estimated that Reckless traveled more than thirty-five miles to re-supply her beloved fellow Marines on that one day.

Reckless learned to live like her fellow Marines out in the field. She was notorious for eating just about anything. Scrambled eggs were a favorite of hers. She also grew fond of Coke and liked an occasional beer, and even a sip of whisky now and then. The Marines made a mash of barley, rice, bread, oatmeal, hard tack, and cabbage. Reckless ate it all, including a couple of packs of cigarettes.  She even interrupted a good game of poker once by eating the chips. On fireless nights, Reckless would lie down on the ground alongside the Marines and they would cover her with their blankets.

There would be many more battles, including amphibious assaults, before a truce was finally declared in 1953, and the troops began getting orders to head home. The Marines provided their beloved chestnut with a beautiful crimson and gold blanket (the Marine Corps colors), to which Gen. Randolph Pate personally pinned her sergeant stripes. Many of Sgt. Reckless’ fellow Marines begged to have the mare brought back to the United States with her unit, but word came from on high that the U.S. Marine Corps was not authorized to ship private property (which was what Reckless was, technically, since Pedersen had purchased her). It looked like the heroic horse might be left behind.

Thankfully, by that time, Reckless was so famous in the American Press that the Pacific Transport Lines gladly paid for her triumphant return to San Francisco, where she was greeted by a mob by cheering admirers, fellow soldiers, and hordes of reporters. Probably bored during her long Pacific crossing, Reckless had eaten her beautiful blanket.  A new one was rushed to the dock, so the returning war hero would be suitably bedecked in her military regalia as she descended onto to the wharf to the popping of photographer’s bulbs. None of the hoopla fazed her in the slightest.

The mare, Reckless, is promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. One of the bravest horses of all times, awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

The mare, Reckless, is promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. One of the bravest horses of all times, Reckless was awarded two Purple Hearts for wounds received in combat.
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

Sgt. Reckless was transported to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, where she was cared for by some old veterans and some new recruits, all members of the 5th Marines. She was later promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant by now Marine Corps Commandant General Pate, and was officially retired one day before Veterans’ Day 1960 with full military honors. Hundreds of her fellow Marines marched in formation to honor her and mark the occasion. Orders were issued to ensure that “SSgt Reckless be provide with quarters and messing at Camp Pendleton Stables in lieu of retired pay.” Her military decorations included two Purple Hearts, a Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with star, a National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, and a Korean Presidential Unit Citation. In 1997, Life Magazine listed her among America’s one hundred greatest heroes.

SSgt Reckless passed away in 1968. A plaque to her memory stands to honor her at the entrance to the Pendleton stables.

There are so many unsung equine heroes. Horses have saved so many of us, our loved ones, and our friends. Share their stories with us, and with the world. Please be sure to share the true story of Sgt. Reckless with everyone.

Watch this video: I promise you will be inspired!


Andrew Geer, Reckless: Pride of the Marines, New York: E. P. Dutton and Co., 1955

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