On this day in 1968, Staff Sergeant Reckless passes away. This particular United States Marine was a horse. Yes, you read that right. The horse was so valuable to (and loved by) the Marines that she was promoted all the way up to Staff Sergeant.
“She was no mascot,” one historian writes. “Reckless was the real deal—an actual combat Marine.” The tough mare worked tirelessly during the Korean War. She carried ammunition to the front lines, often traversing rugged, mountainous terrain. Once she’d delivered her load, she carried wounded Marines from the front lines back to base. She kept going when she was injured or under fire. Amazingly, she made many of these trips back and forth entirely on her own.
“I believe an angel had to be riding Reckless,” one retired Marine later wrote, “since she was alone and without a Marine to lead her.”
Reckless joined the Marines in October 1952 when the commanding officer of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, Fifth Marine Regiment went looking for something to help him carry heavy rounds of ammunition to the front lines. Lt. Eric Pedersen traveled to a racetrack in Seoul to see what he could find. Little did he know that he’d find a horse who would soon prove herself legendary. He paid $250 for her and brought her back to camp.
The mare had been known as “Flame” before. Now she was “Reckless,” which was the nickname the Marines had given their rifles.
The Marines soon discovered that Reckless wasn’t exactly a normal horse. They tried to give her apples and carrots to eat, but she seemed to enjoy scrambled eggs and bacon more. She even washed down her breakfast with coffee! She sometimes joined the Marines for a beer. She spent nights in their tents. She attended poker games.
They put her through “hoof camp,” and Reckless learned not to be spooked by the noise of rifles. She learned not to stand behind guns when they were being fired. She learned to lie down or kneel to avoid incoming fire. She also learned to avoid trip wires.
Reckless is often remembered for her performance at the Battle for Outpost Vegas in March 1953. “The battle was indescribable,” one Marine later said. “It was horrific. I still don’t know how that mare lived through it.”
Nevertheless, Reckless was everywhere, helping to keep her Marines supplied.
“It’s difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain,” Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbitt later said of the experience.
Reckless had made nearly two dozen runs when she ran into some trouble. Her Marines were unloading ammo off Reckless when three enemy mortars hit near them. Everyone dived for cover. One Marine threw his flak jacket over Reckless’s eyes, stroking her and making sure she stayed calm.
She was fine, of course. She soon ran out of the trench, headed to pick up another round of ammunition for her men.
Reckless returned safely home after the war. She’d earned two Purple Hearts, among other medals and citations.
“Sergeant Reckless,” one U.S. Marine Corps general later said, “will be forever remembered as one of the greatest war horses in history.”
P.S. The photo is of Gen. Randolph M.C. Pate personally tacking the chevrons for Staff Sergeant onto the blanket that Reckless is wearing.
Primary Sources & Further Reading:
- Andrew Geer, Reckless: Pride of the Marines (1955)
- Heroic Korean War horse honored by Marines with bronze statue (Fox News; Oct. 26, 2016)
- Horse Stars Hall of Fame (Staff Sergeant Reckless)
- Nancy Lee White Hoffman, Sgt Reckless: Combat Veteran (Marine Corps Assoc & Foundation; Nov. 1992)
- Robin Hutton, Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse (2014)
- Robin Hutton, Meet the Only Horse to Become a Marine Sergeant (NY Post; Aug. 10, 2014)