- Reckless in Korea – Leatherneck archives, fair use
In the Korean War (1950-53), a young marine carried 386 rounds of 75mm recoilless rifle ammunition, each weighing 22-pounds, up a mountain during a battle in heavy fire. Braving enemy machine gun and mortar rounds, she was wounded twice, but never sought medical attention, and tirelessly remained at her task. In one day alone, she made 51 amazing roundtrips to battlefield, carrying ammunition with her to the front lines and wounded marines to shelter on her back during the return trip. The fact that each of these trips was largely unaccompanied through rice paddies and mountain trails speaks volumes to the determination of the marine. This young marine, was a horse, and her name was Reckless.
The Korean War
In 1950, with the shattering lessons learned from veteran Soviet and Chinese advisors, the North Korean Army rushed into South Korea and within weeks had captured most of the country. An amphibious landing at Inchon under the direction of US General Douglas MacArthur and fierce counterattack by US Marines, US Army and UN forces pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu river where 500,000 Chinese ‘volunteers’ entered the war that quickly turned into a repeat of World War One’s trench warfare with all of the firepower that 1950 could produce. This led to the anachronism of modern jet fighters screaming overhead while soldiers fought below in brutal hand-to-hand combat with rifle butt and bayonet, often supplied by carthorses and wooden carts over non-existent roads.
Reckless’s war service
In October 1952, with permission to acquire a horse to help move 22-pound shells for 75mm recoilless rifles, USMC Lieutenant Eric Pedersen went to the Seoul racetrack. There he bought a sorrel (red) mare of about 14-hands from Korean boy Kim Huk Moon for $250. Moon only sold the horse to Pedersen to obtain funds to purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister, a land-mine survivor. Within days, the young mare was dubbed, Reckless, and fitted with a special saddle that enabled her to carry as many as ten of the 75mm shells, a load of almost 250-pounds. This was the same amount of cargo that it took a team of five two-legged marines to tote, and she could do it much faster.
Reckless served with the Recoilless Rifle Platoon attached to the Antitank Company of the Fifth Marine Regiment in combat at Outposts East Berlin, Berlin, Vegas, Reno, Carson, Detroit, and Ava. She accompanied them on raids to attack enemy positions and after ten months finished the war by the Panmunjom corridor to the Imjin River.
Reckless lived in the front lines like any other marine, often going without sleep to accomplish the mission, and sometimes lived on a diet of Coca Cola, candy bars, oatmeal, and cabbage. Between combat, she partied like a marine too, eating $30 in poker chips along with the occasional beer to unwind.
A well-earned retirement
In 1953, with the end of combat operations, many marines petitioned to bring Reckless home to Camp Pendleton California in appreciation of her wartime service. When the government refused to pay for her travel Pacific Transport Lines shipped her for free upon reading of her service. When she arrived on November 10, 1954 (the Marine Corps birthday) in San Francisco, the Governor of California was on hand to greet her and she attended a special Marine Corps Ball in her honor, eating her own piece of cake just like every other marine. She remained lived at Camp Pendleton for the next 14 years, giving birth to four foals. In 1960, at the rank of Staff Sergeant, she was retired from the Marines with full military honors and allowed, by order of the Commandant to remain in her stables under care in lieu of retirement pay.
In all she carried on her scarlet and gold horse blanket two Purple Hearts, a Good Conduct Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with star, a National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal, a United Nations Service Medal, and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
A marker was placed at the stables in Camp Pendleton after Reckless’s death in 1968 at age 20. Today a non-profit organization, through their website Sgtreckless.com, is in the process of funding and building a memorial to honor the faithful marine warhorse, with one in Washington DC and the other, of course at Camp Pendleton.
- Cox, Lillian Four-legged Marine hero retired to Camp Pendleton, San Diego Union Tribune, November 14, 2004
- Geer, Andrew C, Lt Col USMC, Reckless: Pride of the Marines, E. P. Dutton, and Co1955
- White-Hoffman, Nancy Lee – SGT Reckless; Combat Veteran, Leatherneck- Magazine of the Marines, Originally Published November 1992 issue