Like many others who served in the Korean War, Staff Sergeant Reckless, one of the relatively few females serving in the conflict, had courage to spare and an undiscriminating appetite that appreciated beer, Coca-Cola and scrambled eggs. But before anyone celebrates the forward-thinking military minds of the war who gave females equal status in combat, keep in mind that Staff Sergeant Reckless was a horse.
In October of 1952, Lieutenant Eric Pederson received permission from Colonel Eustace Smoak to purchase a pack animal that could tote the twenty-four pound shells used in the recoilless rifles that the 5th Marine Regiment’s Recoilless Rifle Platoon used. He paid $250 to a Korean stableboy who needed money so that he could buy a prosthetic leg for his sister who had stepped on a land mine. The horse’s original name, Morning Flame, was changed to Reckless as a tribute to the Recoilless rifle and the accompanying swagger of the soldiers who operated it. The promotion would come later.
It didn’t take long before Reckless fit right in, although her brothers-in-arms soon found out that her appetite was anything but ladylike and if they wanted to save their candy bars and peanut butter sandwiches for themselves, they had to make sure that Reckless didn’t find them. She didn’t restrict herself to food, however. She once polished off poker chips that her trainer had won. She was eventually limited to two bottles of Coca-Cola a day, but the high-calorie diet didn’t do her girlish figure any harm as she maintained a petite 900 pounds. Reckless liked attention, and if she wasn’t getting enough of it, she had no qualms about crashing a gathering of Marines so that she could be part of the group. But she didn’t stand on ceremony, and enjoyed sharing a beer with her fellow Leathernecks.
Even horses needed training and Reckless was taught how to avoid entanglement in barbed wire, a particular risk for the equine members of the force, by stepping over it. She also learned what “incoming” meant and to kneel for safety when she heard it. Reckless, a quick learner, was able to memorize the routes she traveled and was capable of delivering supplies and ammunition on her own without the guidance of a handler.
The March 1953 Battle of Outpost Vegas was fought with twenty-eight tons of bombs but that didn’t slow down Reckless as she made her way up the steep mountain in full view of the enemy soldiers. Her bravery during the five days of battle was equaled by her stamina, as she traveled 35 miles while under fire carrying over 9,000 pounds of ammunition. Her fellow Marines were her biggest fans, willing to risk their own safety to keep her safe under heavy incoming fire by covering her with their flak jackets. She made a total of 51 trips on her own to bring supplies to units on the front lines of battle. Reckless didn’t just deliver supplies, though. She knew how to multitask, carrying soldiers who had been wounded back down the mountain so that they could be treated, and then carrying ammunition back up the mountain for the soldiers to reload. She was wounded twice, but that didn’t stop her, and she was promoted to corporal in 1953. She wore her two Purple Hearts and other medals on her horse blanket.
While she was still in Korea, The Saturday Evening Post published an article on Reckless. A Pacific Transport Lines executive offered Reckless free passage on one of his company’s ships so that she could travel to San Francisco in order for her home front fans could see her. When she arrived, she made a half-time appearance at the Marine Corps-Army football game.
Another promotion, this time to sergeant, would come in 1954 after the Korean War ended. The Semper Fi mare, the first of her species to participate in an amphibious landing, received citations from the United States and the Republic of Korea.
After the war ended, Sergeant Reckless made the media rounds. She was honored as one of the top 100 all-time American heroes by the popular weekly Life magazine. Retirement didn’t take her out of the limelight as she showed up on television programs like The Art Linkletter Show. That promotion to staff sergeant? It happened in 1959. This superhorse did it all, including giving birth to foals Fearless in 1957, Dauntless in 1959, and Chesty in 1964. When she died on May 13, 1968, she was buried at Camp Pendleton with full military honors.
When a statue of Reckless was unveiled at the Marines Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia in 2013, the audience included Marines who had served with her. Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless, America’s War Horse, views the horse’s military prowess from the perspective of her subject. “She wasn’t a horse, she was a Marine. When the Marines got her, they became her herd. She bonded with them and would do anything for them.”