The Marines Called Her Reckless

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“I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.”

Lieutenant General Randolph Pate 

One of the most beloved members of the Marine Corps went into battle on four feet.  A mare of Mongolian mixed breed, the horse who would become Sergeant Reckless was foaled in 1948 in South Korea.  Originally named Ah Chim Hai, Morning Flame, she was sold to Lieutenant Eric Pederson, USMC,  for $250.00 in October of 1952.  (The owner was a stable boy who needed the money to buy an artificial leg for his sister who had stepped on a land mine.)

Pedersen bought the horse, which had been a race horse, to serve as a pack animal for his recoiless rifle platoon of the 5th Marine regiment.  The platoon called her Reckless after the platoon’s nickname of Reckless Rifles.  Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham gave Reckless an equine version of boot camp, known in her case as hoof camp.  He taught her how to avoid getting tangled up in barbed wire, how to lay down under fire, and to run to a bunker when hearing the shout “Incoming”.  Latham had his wife mail a pack saddle from the states so that Reckless could better fulfill her role of being a pack animal from the platoon.  Reckless quickly became a platoon favorite and was given the freedom to roam the platoon encampment at night and to enter tents at will.  She loved cokes and beer, and would eat with enthusiasm whatever she could get her mouth on, including, one dark day, $30.00 worth of winning poker chips of Latham.

However, Reckless quickly demonstrated that she was not a mere mascot or pet.  In the battle of Hedy’s Crotch she proved fearless in transporting shells for the recoiless rifles of the platoon.  At first alarmed by the sounds of the rifles going off, by the end of the day she was calmly going about her business.  A highly intelligent horse, she only needed to be led the first few times, and afterwards would make the trips bringing up the shells on her own.

At the battle of Outpost Vegas, March 26-28, 1953, she received a promotion to Corporal for her sterling service, including on one day 51 solo trip bringing up 386 shells.  She was slightly wounded twice during the engagement for which she was awarded two Purple Hearts.

Outside of battle Reckless performed many functions, including stringing telephone lines.  It was said that she could string telephone lines at a rate that it would take 12 men to match.  She enjoys the distinction of being the only horse to participate in a Marine Corps amphibious landing. 

In 1954 Major General Randolph M. Pate, commander of the 1rst Marine Division promoted Reckless to Sergeant.  She was also given a red and gold blanket, replaced after she ate the first one, with her insignia of rank, and upon which her medals were pinned:  the two purple hearts, the Marine Good Conduct a Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star, the National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Korea Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation, and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation plus a French Fourragere that the 5th Marines earned in World War I at Belleau Wood.

On April 17, 1954 an article in the Saturday Evening Post led to a campaign for the Marines to bring Reckless to the States.  The United States Department of Agriculture almost derailed this when they insisted that Reckless be tested for glanders and dourine.  Reckless passed the blood test, although some of her Marine friends were ready to attack her testers when they learned that dourine was a test for a horse sexually transmitted disease, viewing this as an affront to the honor of Reckless.  Reckless set foot on US soil on November 10, 1954 in Los Angeles.  She was the guest of honor at the Marine Corp Birthday Ball that evening, riding in an elevator and eating her share of cake and the table floral decorations.

She enjoyed an honorable retirement with the 5th Marines at Camp Pendleton.  The Marines protected her from exploitation by commercial interests.  She had three colts and one filly.  The filly sadly died a month after birth.  The colts were named Fearless (1957), Dauntless (1959) and Chesty (1964), Chesty being named after the legendary Marine Lieutenant General Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller.

Reckless died on May 13, 1968.  A statue of her hauling shells is on display at the National Marine Corps Museum.  A lock of her tail hair is embedded in the statue.  As long as there is a Marine Corps, Reckless will never be forgotten.

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  1. Great story. Reminiscent of the movie “Gallant Bess” of WW2 in the Pacific if I recall correctly.

  2. Off topic :-).

    On San FraNZisco Bay earlier today, Emirates Team New Zealand defeated Prada Luna Rosa in the Louis Vuiton cup for the right to challenge Larry Ellison’s Team Oracle for the America’s Cup, currently held by Oracle.
    The big 72 foot catamarans are amazingly fast, sailing as fast as 47 knots in only 18 knots of wind. The advance in sailing technology over the past decades has been quite spectacular.
    I am a bit of a sailing purist for events like the America’s cup. The competition in the monohulls, with the similarity in the boats makes for much more interesting sailing. However, to see these catamarans in full flight is great. So next month, the Kiwis could well kick some yankee butt in this yacht race 🙂
    It will all unfold on San FraNZisco Bay starting on – I think – 7th.September.

  3. My grandfather was a Regular cavalryman (5 Dragoon Guards) and his horse was killed under him at the Battle of Nery (1 September 1914). Warfare is endemic to the human condition; it results from our fallen state; and although modern war has its horrors, at least we no longer depend on brute creation which has no choice in the matter. Infantry were enjoined to shoot at the horses since it was the best way of bringing the rider down.

    The British cavalry (unlike their French allies) always dismounted on the march and walked their horses in order to save their backs. I loved the story of “Reckless”. In London’s Hyde Park there is a memorial, opened in 2004, to commemorate those animals who served in Commonwealth and allied armies in the wars of the 20th century.

  4. I read the story about Reckless on the 26th, the birthday of my late father who enjoyed the sport of kings and was part owner in a few nags. I posted my nephew, his grandson, a printed copy; he’s at an FOB in Afghanistan and I thought he would enjoy receiving a positive war story. Thank you.

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