Staff Sergeant Reckless was a decorated war horse who held official rank in the United States military. During the Korean War, she carried ammunition to the front lines and rescued wounded soldiers
She was purchased by members of the United States Marine Corps in October 1952 for $250 from a young Korean boy. The horse's breeding was thought to be primarily Mongolian though she did have some features, particularly the shape of her head, that were similar to horses of Thoroughbred lineage. She was small, standing only 14 hands and weighing 900 pounds. The Marines renamed her "Reckless" as a contraction of the name of the Recoilless rifle and a nod to the daredevil attitude associated with those who used the gun.
Reckless was taught battlefield survival skills such as how not to become entangled in barbed wire and to lie down when under fire. She learned to run for a bunker upon hearing the cry, "incoming!" The platoon called it her "hoof training" and "hoof camp". The horse was initially kept in a pasture near the encampment. Reckless had a gentle disposition and soon developed such a rapport with the troops that she was allowed to freely roam about the camp and entered tents at will, sometimes sleeping inside with the troops, and even lying down next to Latham's warm tent stove on cold nights. She was fond of a wide variety of foodstuffs, entertaining the platoon by eating scrambled eggs and drinking Coca-Cola and beer. Food could not be left unattended around her. She was known to eat bacon, buttered toast, chocolate bars, hard candy, shredded wheat, peanut butter sandwiches and mashed potatoes. However, Mitchell advised the platoon that she not be given more than two bottles of Coke a day. Her tastes were not confined to foodstuffs; she once ate her horse blanket, and on another occasion ate $30 worth of Latham's winning poker chips.
Reckless's baptism under fire came at a place called Hedley's Crotch, near the villages of Changdan and Kwakchan. Though loaded down with six recoilless rifle shells, she initially "went straight up" and all four feet left the ground the first time the Recoilless Rifle was fired. When she landed she started shaking, but her handler calmed her down. The second time the gun fired she merely snorted, and by the end of the mission that day, she appeared calm and was seen trying to eat a discarded helmet liner. She even appeared to take an interest in the operation of the weapon. When learning a new delivery route, Reckless would only need someone to lead her a few times. Afterwards she would make the trips on her owm
Reckless’ most significant accomplishment was during the Battle of Outpost Vegas in the final stages of the Korean War between US and Chinese armed forces in March 1953.
During this five-day bloody battle, which is estimated to have cost the lives of 1,000 American and 2,000 Chinese soldiers, Reckless made 51 trips to resupply the guns with ammunition on one day alone.
All in all, the small mare carried 386 rounds of ammunition, weighing almost 4,000 kilograms, by walking more than 35 miles through rice paddies and steep mountain trails. After unloading the ammunition, Reckless would carry the wounded soldiers back down to safety, despite getting injured twice herself; once when she was hit by shrapnel over the left eye and another time on her left flank
Astonishingly, Reckless did all of this mostly by herself whilst being under heavy enemy fire.
After the war, she was allowed to come to the United States where she was the guest of honor at a Marine Banquet. Reckless retired from active service with full military honors at Camp Pendleton on November 10, 1960. She was provided free quarters and feed in lieu of retirement pay, per Marine Corps documents. Her permanent home was with the 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton where she lived out her days. She produced 4 foals during her retirement at Camp Pendleton.
She was awarded 2 Purple Hearts as well as 8 other Medals of Honor.
Reckless developed arthritis in her back as she aged and injured herself by falling into some barbed wire fence. She died while under sedation while her wounds were being treated. She was estimated to be about 20 years old at the time of her death.
There is a plaque and photo commemorating her at the Camp Pendleton stables. On May 12, 2018, a bronze statue of Sergeant Reckless was placed and dedicated in the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington Kentucky. Reckless is considered to be one of the greatest American War Horses of all time.
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