The Korean War is often known as the “Forgotten War” and endured the most savage fighting ever seen. During the conflict, nearly 40,000 U.S. soldiers died and over 100,000 were wounded. However, many made it home safely thanks to the heroic efforts of a little horse named Reckless.
The $250 Dollar Horse
On October 26, 1952, Lt. Eric Pedersen, who lead the 5th Marine Regiment’s recoilless rifle platoon, paid $250 for a small, chestnut mare at Seoul race track. The vendor, a Korean boy called Kim Huk Moon, was heartbroken to sell his beloved horse but desperately needed the money to buy his sister an artificial leg. Chung Soon had tragically lost her leg in a land mine accident.
The horse, named Flame-of-the-Morning, was to carry ammunition for the recoilless rifle, nicknamed “reckless rifle,” which is how the horse eventually earned her name. The gun was able to destroy tanks and bunkers, and one shell alone weighed 24 lbs. Standing only 13.1 hands high and bred to race, Reckless is often described as being of Mongolian origin but is more likely she was made up of the Cheju pony and thoroughbred. A mixture of the two breeds is called a Hanna horse.
Training for War
Sergeant Joe Latham, who was an experienced horseman, carried out her training. He put Reckless through “hoof camp,” teaching her how to jump in and out of a jeep trailer, step over barbed wire and communication lines, lie down when under fire and taught her to run to her bunker and crouch down when he shouted “incoming.” Their bond was so remarkable that Joe eventually only needed to use hand signals to communicate. When delivering ammunition to the frontline, Reckless would be escorted a couple of times to learn the way and then travel the journey alone. Wherever the troops were, she would always find them.
Reckless was not only renowned for her heroics on the battlefield but also for her insatiable appetite. She would often wander into the mess halls and eat anything and everything that came her way! She loved scrambled eggs and bacon washed down with coffee, as well as pancakes, Hershey bars, cake, peanut butter sandwiches, shredded wheat, mashed potatoes, and Coca-Cola. She would also love a beer with the lads and a few times they made her drunk! Reckless was fantastic for the Marine’s emotional well-being and having her around did much to boost morale.
The Battle of Outpost Vegas from March 26 to 28 in 1953, was one of the bloodiest of the Korean War. For Reckless, this would be her finest hour as she excelled as a war-horse. On just one day alone, she made 51 trips carrying 386 rounds of ammunition, walking 35 miles over rice paddy fields and up 45-degree hills while under enemy fire. She would return taking dead or injured soldiers on her back, travelling mostly unaccompanied. She was wounded twice in the process but carried on regardless.
After what Reckless did in this battle, she not only received the respect she so duly deserved but was also promoted to Sergeant. Loved by all the Marines, they would often protect her from heavy, incoming gunfire by throwing their flak jackets over her, risking their safety.
Retirement in the U.S.A.
After the war had ended on July 27, 1953, many Marines requested that Reckless came to the United States. Unfortunately, government funds couldn’t be used to finance this as she wasn’t government property. However, when Stan Coppel, the Executive Vice President of Pacific Transport, read of the dilemma, he offered for her to ride free on one of his ships from Yokohama to San Francisco. Reckless arrived in the U.S.A. on November 10, 1954 to a hero’s welcome.
She spent her retirement at the stables of the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in Southern California and would never have anything on her back again apart from a blanket. Reckless would often take part in special events and ceremonies, and on August 31, 1959 Gen. Pate made her Staff Sergeant. Her many other honours included two Purple Hearts, Good Citation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with Star, and a United Nations Service Medal, all which she proudly wore on a scarlet and gold blanket.
All Time Hero
Reckless also produced four foals. The first three were named Fearless, Dauntless and Chesty, but her last one died a month after it was born. On May 13, 1968, Reckless became tangled up in barbed wire and severely injured herself. A decision was made to have her put to sleep. She was aged about twenty years old and buried with full military honours. In 1997, Life Magazine listed Reckless as one of America’s all-time 100 heroes.
On July 27, 2016, Reckless was posthumously awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Robin Hutton, who wrote the book, Sgt Reckless: America’s War Horse, nominated her for the honour. On October 26, 2016, exactly 63 years since Reckless became a Marine, the unveiling of a $165,000 statue takes place at Base Pendleton.
The incredible true story of Reckless, who showed such courage and bravery, and saved so many lives, must never be forgotten. Small in size, she had the biggest heart carrying out a tremendous job in such a selfless way. She was more than just a horse. She was a Marine, and we salute her.