Staff Sergeant Reckless Accomplished More In 20 Years Than Many Humans

Bred from Mongolian horses, Staff Sergeant Reckless was a decorated war horse who did more to help the allies during the Korean Conflict than many soldiers.

During her time of service, Reckless once made 51 trips in one day without human guidance to the lines. That day she carried 9,00 pounds of ammo and walked a total of 35 miles through open rice paddies. No doubt, her story is unbelievable.

Humble Heritage

In October 1952, the USMC Lieutenant Eric Pedersen purchased Reckless from a Korean stableboy for $250.

Pedersen needed needed a pack animal for treading the terrain of the Korean theater of war. Specifically, he needed the horse to cart 24-pound shells for their recoil rifles.

He and two other men from his unit found the chestnut-colored horse at the Soul racetrack. She was around three or four years old, mostly Mongolian but crossed with some thoroughbred.

As the lore goes, the stableboy needed money to buy a prosthetic limb for his sister who’d lost her leg stepping on a landmine. He had no choice but to sell the racehorse he called Flame.

When the marines bought her, she weighed 900 pounds, small for a racehorse, but sufficient for a workhorse. Neither the boy nor the Lieutenant Pedersen knew what would come of this mare.

As he and his partners walked away with Flame, the noticed the boy cried seeing her go. They would soon learn why.

Hoof Camp

To make Flame ready for battle, they had to train her. She knew how to run, but they needed her to walk without falling, through rice paddies and amidst the crimson explosions of war.

Pedersen elected Platoon Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham to train her. Pedersen and three other marines contributed to her training. It was Pedersen’s wife who shipped a saddle to him from California to complete Flame’s uniform.

The marines also changed her name to Reckless, a reference to the rifle for which they bought her, the Recoilless rifle. The first thing she needed to learn was how to cross fields without getting caught in barbed wire. She also needed to lie down when enemy fire filled the sky. She picked both of these up and even learned to head for the bunker when someone yelled “incoming.”

At first they kept her in field near camp, but eventually they allowed Reckless to roam. Her disposition was so gentle, they didn’t worry about her. In fact, they started to treat her like another marine. She even slept with the troops at times, ate with them, meandered in and out of tents.

It became clear to Pedersen why the stableboy cried to see his horse go. She was more of a friend than a pet. The only bad thing about Reckless was her diet. She would eat anything, including bacon an chocolate.

Marines had to ensure that they left out no food, but they still snuck her treats. The doctor asked that they limit her Coca Cola intake to two bottles day. Her appetite exceded the limits of food. She even ate a couple of her blankets.

In Battle

In her first battle, the sound of Recoilless rifle caused Reckless to jump straight up even though she still had a full load of shells on her back. She was shaken, but they calmed her down enough to not run.

By the end of that first day she didn’t flinch when they fired the rifle. In battle, what the marines discovered was that Reckless only needed someone to lead her through the route a couple of times. Then she could do it by herself. If the route changed, they’d need to show her again, but she could traverse it without a guide.

During the Battle of Vegas, which lasted three days, Reckless suffered injuries twice, but recovered from both. One was shrapnel to her left eye.

After that Battle, they promoted Reckless to corporal. Reckless’ story weaves through the conflict like a movie plot. She took menial jobs like stringing telephone lines and carrying tack. She even once made an amphibious landing with her unit, a military first.

Upward Mobility

Although rank for military animals is now somewhat common, during Reckless’ time it was not. She was one of the first.

Because of her contributions and the profound love the marines felt for her, months after the conflict ended they prompted Reckless to sergeant. At the end of the fighting, the question arose, what to do with Reckless?

An article in the Saturday Evening Post about Reckless corralled support to bring her home. After reading the article, an executive from Pacific Transport Lines offered to sail her home on one of his ships. The marines coordinated the move and they shipped her home like any other sergeant.

Back in the United States, at Camp Pendleton five years later, they promoted her again to Staff Sergeant. That time they honored her with a 19-gun salute, decorated her with blankets, and paraded 1,700 marines to celebrate her contributions.

She later received two purple hearts for her injuries sustained in battle. On top of that, they awarded her with seven total medals and accommodations.

As if everything she did weren’t enough, Reckless also gave birth to four foals before the end.

In a twist of irony, Reckless developed arthritis later in life, which caused her to fall into a barbed wire fence, the very thing she’d trained to avoid. While sedated to treat her wounds she passed away.

The marines erected a plaque in her honer at the Pendleton stables. A statue of her stands Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, which holds a lock of her tail hair in the base of the statue.