A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky by Heart: Hoofed Marine Sgt. Reckless made incredible mark on U.S. military history

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

In recognition of her amazing valor in the Korean War, she was awarded a battlefield promotion from corporal to sergeant in a formal ceremony on a viewing stand. She was later promoted to staff sergeant, this time with a ceremony personally presided over by the then U.S. Marine commandant, General Randolph Pate.

The ceremony included a 19-gun salute and a 1700-person parade of U.S. Marines from her wartime unit. She won two Purple Hearts. There were national feature articles written about her. And at her death in 1968, she received full burial honors at Camp Pendleton.

Not bad for a horse… one by the swashbuckling name of Sergeant Reckless, who a few years back had a bronze statue of her likeness placed at The Kentucky Horse Park. An educational website specifically for her was also created, with a headline stating proudly: “She wasn’t a Horse — She was a Marine.”

And what were the actions that brought this animal to equine hero status? It started during the Korean War on October 26, 1952, when U.S. Marine Lt. Eric Pederson, who led the 75mm Recoilless Rifle Platoon, received approval from superiors to buy a horse to pack 24-pound shells over hilly terrain to be used as ammunition in the unit’s recoilless rifles, a lightweight, man-portable piece of artillery used at the end of World War II and extensively in Korea.

He found the horse he sought in Seoul, buying a horse bred to race from a young South Korean man who needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister, who lost the limb when a landmine exploded close by while she worked in a rice paddy field. The price was $250 for the horse then named “Flame,” and though it saddened the owner to sell, his cause seemed honorable.

Once a part of the fighting unit, Flame’s name was changed to “Sergeant Reckless,” a play on words comparing her to the platoon’s name that included “Recoilless.” Pederson, himself a horse lover, picked Technical Sergeant Joe Latham and PFC Monroe Coleman to oversee the recruit, with Latham becoming the main trainer. The troops quickly became attached to Reckless. They built her a bunker and showered her with attention and plenty of treats such as chocolates, soft drinks, and even their breakfast foods, along with, oddly, beer, which the horse guzzled down out of a bowl set on a table.

A bronze statue honoring Sgt. Reckless at Kentucky Horse Park (Photo courtesy The Kentucky Horse Park)

Latham started “hoof camp” by teaching Reckless, among other things, how to carry four, then six recoilless rounds on top of the animal’s special-made pack saddle. He also taught the horse—with a great deal of patience–to protect herself from enemy fire by kneeling and laying down as she carried the ammunition. He also taught her, after early consternation in battle, to somehow tune out the loud and threatening sounds of guns blasting… a tribute to Latham’s patient, skillful training.

On the first Reckless mission, both Latham and Coleman led her carrying six shells to positions where troops were shelling Communist foxholes on the Main Line of Resistance known as “Hedy’s Crotch.” According to Tom Clavin in his book, Reckless: The Racehorse Who Became a War Hero, “the sudden ‘wham’ of the recoilless rifle, even from two hundred yards farther uphill, caused Reckless to jump right off the ground, despite the almost 150 pounds of metal in her load… Reckless’ eyes were white and she snorted and shook her head. She was terrified.” But after a few more gun fires, she settled down, somewhat becoming used to the loud blasts. All told, she made a half dozen trips on the first mission, and it was clear that the horse was an important factor in the American’s successful assault on enemy foxhole positions in this initiative; now, she would be important in many more battles.

Following are some of Sgt. Reckless’s most significant packhorse missions (from a powerpoint presentation by Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse):

Jan. 31, 1953
Outpost Berlin
15 trips-2000 lbs. (94 rounds) – 6/trip

Feb. 25, 1953
Outpost Detroit
24 trips-3500 lbs. (144 rounds) – 6/trip
Walked close to 20 miles

But the biggest and most memorable of her brave actions came on the five-day window of March 26-30:

Battle of Outpost Vegas
The Nevada Triangle/Complex

• Made 51 trips from ammo dump to gun sites (mostly alone)
• Walked 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep hills
• Carried 386 rounds of ammo (over 9,000 lbs.)
• Incoming artillery landing at 500 lbs. per minute
• So much incoming/outgoing colliding mid-air causing aerial bursts to rain on troops
• Wounded twice – never faltered
• Carried a few wounded to safety

A bronze statue set in 2018, part of the “Sculptures of the Park” at The Kentucky Horse Park, is a beautiful tribute to Sgt. Reckless’ amazing contributions to our country.

Sources: sgtreckless.com; Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse, by Robin Hutton (Regnery History, 2014); Reckless: The Racehorse Who Became a Marine Corps Hero, by Tom Clavin (NAL Caliber, 2014); kyhorsepark.com; en.wikipedia.org; Sgt. Reckless/Kentucky Life/KET

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

Related Posts

Leave a Comment