Sergeant Reckless, An American Hero
Reckless would be trained for her new duties by Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham, she was taught battlefield survival skills such as how not to become entangled in barbed wire and to lie down when under fire. She learned to run for a bunker upon hearing the cry, "incoming!" The platoon called it her "hoof training" and "hoof camp". The horse was initially kept in a pasture near the encampment. Reckless had a gentle disposition and soon developed such a rapport with the troops that she was allowed to freely roam about the camp and entered tents at will, sometimes sleeping inside with the troops, and even lying down next to Latham`s warm tent stove on cold nights. She was fond of a wide variety of foodstuffs, entertaining the platoon by eating scrambled eggs and drinking Coca-Cola and beer. Food could not be left unattended around her. She was known to eat bacon, buttered toast, chocolate bars, hard candy, shredded wheat, peanut butter sandwiches and mashed potatoes. However, Mitchell advised the platoon that she not be given more than two bottles of Coke a day. Her tastes were not confined to foodstuffs; she once ate her horse blanket, and on another occasion ate $30 worth of Latham`s winning poker chips.
Reckless`s baptism under fire came at a place called Hedley`s Crotch, near the villages of Changdan and Kwakchan. Though loaded down with six recoilless rifle shells, she initially "went straight up" and all four feet left the ground the first time the Recoilless Rifle was fired. When she landed she started shaking, but Coleman, her handler, calmed her down. The second time the gun fired she merely snorted, and by the end of the mission that day appeared calm and was seen trying to eat a discarded helmet liner. When learning a new delivery route, Reckless would only need someone to lead her a few times. Afterwards she would make the trips on her own.
Her most significant accomplishment came during the Battle of Panmunjom-Vegas (also known as the Battle of Outpost Vegas/Vegas Hill) over the period March 26-28, 1953, when she made 51 solo trips in a single day, carrying a total of 386 recoilless rounds (over 9,000 pounds, carrying 4 to 8 24-pound shells on each trip) covering over 35 miles that day. The whole Battle of Vegas lasted 3 days. She was wounded twice during the battle: once when she was hit by shrapnel over the left eye and another time on her left flank. For her accomplishments during the Battle of Vegas Hill, Reckless was promoted to corporal, she would also receive a purple heart for her injury.
An article in The Saturday Evening Post, published on April 17, 1954, while Reckless was still in Korea, resulted in a campaign by American supporters to get the Marines to bring her to the United States. An executive at Pacific Transport Lines, Stan Coppel, read the article and offered to let Reckless ride free on one of his company`s ships from Yokohama to San Francisco. Prior to her departure for America, a ceremony, including a band, for Reckless` rotation to the United States was held during half time of a football game between the Marine Corps and Army. Reckless left Korea for Japan aboard a 1st Marine Aircraft Wing transport plane. She then sailed from Yokohama on October 22 aboard the SS Pacific Transport, due in San Francisco on November 5, 1954. She was led off the ship by Lieutenant Pedersen and set foot on American soil in San Francisco on November 10, 1954, Reckless was kept by Pedersen`s family for a brief time before moving to a more permanent home with the 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. She made several public appearances, including Art Linkletter`s show House Party, but had to cancel an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show due to the typhoon.
Reckless was well cared for and treated as a VIP during her time at Camp Pendleton. The Marine Corps was also careful not to allow her to be exploited by commercial interests. She produced four foals there: colts Fearless (1957), Dauntless (1959), and Chesty (1964); her last foal, a filly born circa 1965-1966, died a month after birth and was unnamed. Her offspring Chesty was named after Chesty Puller, one of the few Marines ever allowed to ride Reckless. Reckless retired from active service with full military honors at Camp Pendleton on November 10, 1960. She was provided free quarters and feed in lieu of retirement pay, per Marine Corps documents.
Reckless developed arthritis in her back as she aged and injured herself on May 13, 1968, by falling into a barbed wire fence. She died under sedation while her wounds were being treated. At the time of her death, she was estimated to be 19 or 20 years old. There is a plaque and photo commemorating her at the Camp Pendleton stables. The first race at Aqueduct racetrack, New York, was designated "The Sgt Reckless" on November 10, 1989. In 1997, Reckless was listed by LIFE magazine as one of America`s 100 all-time heroes.
A statue by sculptor Jocelyn Russell of Reckless carrying ammunition shells and other combat equipment was unveiled on July 26, 2013, in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, one day before the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. There is a lock of her tail hair in the base of the statue. The statue`s plaque includes a quote from Sergeant Harold Wadley, who served in battle alongside Sergeant Reckless: "The spirit of her loneliness and her loyalty, in spite of the danger, was something else to behold. Hurting. Determined. And alone. That`s the image I have imprinted in my head and heart forever."
A memorial to Sergeant Reckless at Camp Pendleton was dedicated on October 26, 2016. The monument was created by Jocelyn Russell. It is similar to the one located at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
A memorial to Sergeant Reckless at Yeoncheon Gorangpogu History Park (Near Battlefield of Outpost Vegas Battle) was dedicated in 2018.
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If you`re a horse lover you`ve probably read lots about horses being used in battle, as this is something that has been done for centuries and horses were the original tanks. You may also have seen the film War Horse that went more into how they were used even as recently as World War I. However, despite all that you may know about war horses and their uses, you`ve probably not heard of Sergeant Reckless, a war horse primarily during the Korean War who showed extreme bravery and made substantial differences on the front.
During her time in Korea, her main duties were carrying supplies and ammunition to those fighting on the front, as well as sometimes being used to transport the wounded back to camp. What made her so spectacular over other horses was the fact that she was able to learn routes after just going on them a couple of times, meaning she could do supply and ammunition runs entirely on her own, freeing up the time and abilities of more soldiers. This alone is amazing, but Reckless did more than that.
In March 1953, during the Battle For Outpost Vegas, she made an incredible 51 solo trips to supply units on the front lines, and was wounded twice. Because of this bravery and resilience, she was ranked corporal later that year and promoted to sergeant the next year.
This officially makes her the most decorated war horse of all time and her bravery made a true difference in the war and to her unit and for that America will always be grateful. Sergeant Reckless was brought to the United States after the war for her retirement, where she lived out the rest of her days at the Marine Corps Base of Camp Pendleton in California. This single horseís bravery will never be forgotten.
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