2017-05-31 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Staff Sgt. Reckless (c. 1948-68) was a Mongolian mare that served in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. “She wasn’t a horse, she was a Marine.” These opening words of a book about her have become the USMC motto, praising their heroic horse. The courage and spirit of Reckless were remarkable.

During the Korean conflict, Reckless carried wounded Marines and ammunition through fierce fire fights. She was wounded twice, and later awarded two Purple Hearts along with many other accolades including bronze statues at Quantico in Virginia and Camp Pendleton in California.

Reckless joined the Marines to carry ammunition to the front lines for the 75mm Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marines - and quickly earned the love and respect of all Marines she served with. In 1952 Lt. Eric Pedersen purchased her for $250 from a young Korean man who worked as a stable boy at a Seoul racetrack. He sold his beloved horse so he could buy an artificial leg for his older sister who lost her leg in a land mine accident.

"Reckless" - dressed in her USMC blanket during the Korean War "Reckless" - dressed in her USMC blanket during the Korean War Reckless’s antics off the battlefield were legendary too. She was allowed to roam free at the camp. She endeared herself to her Marines, and followed them everywhere. Reckless was known to share a beer with her platoon. This horse had a mind of her own and was very determined, if food was left unattended.

The mare had a voracious appetite. She would eat anything – especially scrambled eggs and pancakes with her morning cup of coffee. She also loved cake, chocolate pudding, candy from the C rations and Coca Cola – even poker chips, blankets and hats when she was being ignored or trying to prove a point. At 6 a.m. she’d poke her nose into a cook’s bunk and grab his blanket so he’d get up and feed her.

According to author Robin Hutton in his book, Sgt. Reckless, America’s Warhorse, Reckless was not startled by the powerful anti-tank guns used by her unit. Her main caretaker, Sgt. Joseph Latham, taught her how to kneel during incoming fire and to step over barbed wires. She quickly memorized routes to and from battle stations, negotiating dangerous paths and mountain trails without a handler.

One of Reckless’s finest hours came during the Battle of Outpost Vegas in March of 1953. Enemy soldiers could see her as she made her way across the deadly “no man’s land” rice paddies and up the steep 45-degree mountain trails that led to the firing sites.

On one particular day of this five-day battle, Reckless made 51 trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites. She carried 386 rounds of ammunition (over 9,000 pounds), walked more than 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep mountains with enemy fire coming in at the rate of 500 rounds per minute.

In the midst of combat, Reckless would carry wounded soldiers down the mountain to safety, unload them, get reloaded with ammo and go back up to the guns. She also provided a shield for several Marines who were trapped, trying to make their way up to the front line. Wounded twice, Reckless didn’t let that stop or slow her down. She was promoted on the battle field to corporal. In 1959 she was promoted to staff sgt. by the USMC Commandant - General Randolph Pate.

Her heroics defined the word “Marine.” She was BELOVED by her platoon. They took care of her better than they took care of themselves, throwing their flak jackets over her to protect her when incoming was heavy, risking their own safety.

Besides the two Purple Hearts, the horse’s military decorations included a Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with star, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. She wore them all proudly on her red and gold blanket, along with a French Fourragere that the 5th Marines earned in World War I.

Her wartime service was featured in The Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine recognized her as one of the top-100 American all-time heroes among icons like George Washington. Reckless made a few TV appearances on The Art Linkletter Show, and participated in the Marine Corps birthday ball festivities. A movie was planned but never materialized.

Reckless gave birth to three colts - Fearless, Dauntless and Chesty - and a filly that died one month later. Her sons didn’t distinguish themselves as their mother did. She retired at Camp Pendleton in 1960, where she died of natural causes eight years later. She was buried with full military honors on May 13, 1968. A bronze plaque marks her grave at Camp Pendleton stables.

As part of the ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the Korean War in 2013, a 10-foot bronze statue of Reckless was unveiled at the Marine Corps Museum of Quantico, Virginia. Then on Oct. 16, 2016, the 64th anniversary of Reckless joining the Corps, a 12-foot statue by the same artist Jocelyn Russell was dedicated at

Camp Pendleton.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported: “A few dozen white-haired Marine survivors of Korea gathered at Camp Pendleton this week to honor their comrade in arms - or, actually, hooves." “Horses and Marines are a lot alike,” said Harold Wadley, who served with Reckless and traveled to Wednesday’s ceremony from his home in Idaho. “They both are herd animals requiring leadership,” Wadley said. “The main difference is that horses instinctively flee from danger, and Marines run toward it.”

Less than a month later my husband had a reunion in Washington, D.C. with several Vietnam Marine buddies. They try to meet annually for the Marine Corps Birthday which is Nov. 10 - the day before Veterans Day. One Marine friend brought Reckless medallions as gifts. One side says: “She wasn’t a horse;” the other: “She was a Marine.” After the ceremony in Arlington Ceremony, he walked up to the current commandant of the USMC, chatted briefly and handed him a medallion too.

At Babylon Animal Shelter (631-643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: Our poster dogs are K9 extremes. “Izzy” (name change) is the tiny 15-year-old Toy Poodle found with mats and open wounds, now on the mend. She is being fostered by Dr. Lyons (shelter vet) until she finds a placement for her. “Jersey” 17-283 is a 118-pound chocolate Lab found on Jersey St. This goofball is bigger than Hackensack. Anyone misplace him?

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