Reckless earned her way into Marine Corps lore
A lot of older Americans know the most decorated U.S. soldier of World War II — Audie Murphy, although younger generations may know him better as a movie star in the 1950s and ‘60s.
But I’ll bet most readers can’t name the most unusual and unsung hero of the Korean War, a name that was included in Life Magazine’s list of America’s Greatest Heroes, along with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was Reckless, a small — probably no more than 14-hands-tall — sorrel mare recruited off the racetrack in Seoul, Korea, to carry ammunition for the 5th Marines.
Last July, a statue of Reckless was unveiled at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va.
The story of Reckless is as remarkable as it is unusual. It began in 1952, when Lt. Eric Pedersen paid $250 of his own money to a young Korean boy, Kim Huk Moon, to purchase the animal to transport munitions over the steep and rocky trails common in the mountainous terrain. The only reason the boy sold his beloved horse was to buy an artificial leg for his older sister, Chung Soon, who lost her leg to a land mine.
The boy’s loss was the Marines’ gain.
One of Reckless’ finest hours came during the Battle of Outpost Vegas in March of 1953. At the time of this battle, it was written that, “The savagery of the battle for the so-called Nevada Complex has never been equaled in Marine Corps history.” According to reports, this particular battle “saw a cannonading and bombing seldom experienced in warfare — twenty-eight tons of bombs and hundreds of the largest shells turned the crest of Vegas into a smoking, death-pocked rubble.”
Reckless was right in the middle of it all.
During this horrendous, five-day battle, on one day alone the plucky little horse made 51 trips through the fiery barrage from the ammunition supply point to the firing sites. Most of the time she did so by herself!
Every yard she advanced was showered with explosives. Undaunted, she carried a total of 386 rounds of ammo — almost five tons — and walked over 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep mountains with enemy fire coming in at the rate of 500 rounds per minute.
Many times she would carry wounded Marines down the mountain to safety, unload them, get reloaded with ammo and head back up to the guns. Wounded twice, the little mare didn’t let that stop her or even slow her down, and she saved the day for the leathernecks.
Her heroics in this bloody battle engendered the word “Marine” and earned Corporal Reckless a promotion to Sergeant, along with the undying love and respect of her fellow Marines of the 75mm Recoilless Rifle Platoon. It is said they took better care of her than they did themselves, often risking their own safety by throwing their flak jackets over her to protect her when incoming artillary was heavy.
The military decorations of this gallant horse include two Purple Hearts, the Good Conduct Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with star, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation, and the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, all of which Sergeant Reckless wore proudly on her red and gold blanket, along with a French Fourragere that the 5th Marines earned in World War I.
It was not only Reckless’ heroics that endeared her to the Marines. There were also her incredible antics off the battlefield. Her voracious appetite became legendary. She would eat anything and everything! She especially liked to share the troops’ scrambled eggs and pancakes in the morning, along with her usual cup of coffee. She also loved cake and cookies of any kind, Hershey bars and candy from the C rations, and she came to appreciate liquids other than water, such as milk and Coca Cola. Reckless was even known to down a beer under the stress of battle.
After the war, Marine Lt. Col. Andrew Geer, who served as her commander, wrote several articles about the courageous little war horse and penned the book, “Reckless, Pride of the Marines.” Although she was initially left in Korea, thanks to all the publicity, Sgt. Reckless was soon brought to Camp Pendleton, Calif., where she was promoted to staff sergeant and lived out her life with special care and attention. Pampered to the end, Reckless died in 1968 and was survived by three offspring.
Semper fidelis, always faithful, was never a more fitting motto than in the example of this valiant horse.
Pat Martin lives in Grand Junction and writes about history and horses. The information in this article is based on several different articles written about Reckless.