By Frank J. Buchman
Staff Sgt. Reckless wasn’t just a horse, she was a Marine who served in the Korean War.
A bronze replica was dedicated in memory of the famous pack horse during a ceremony at Camp Pendleton, California, on October 26
Brig. Gen. Kevin Killea, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations West, was joined by Korean War veterans and the Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard in dedicating the statue.
Staff Sgt. Reckless served with the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
The unit’s Platoon Commander bought her at a racetrack in Seoul during the Korean War and trained her to navigate supply routes by herself while evading enemy fire.
Lt. Erick Pederson, leader of the 5th Marine Regiment’s recoilless rifle platoon, paid $250 for the small sorrel mare at a Seoul racetrack during the Korean War in 1952.
Marines’ recoilless rifles are known as “reckless rifles.” That’s how the mare got her name: Reckless.
The Marines trained her to carry 75 mm recoilless rifle rounds. She would lie down during incoming fire and pick her way through barbed wire.
According to legend, Reckless would go into mess halls, eat pancakes with maple syrup, even hang out with Marines in tents and drink beer.
The only animal ever awarded an official rank in the Marine Corps, Reckless is also the only horse to be buried with full military honors at the Stepp Stables on base.
She was a mix between Cheju (Jeju) pony (an island off the southern tip of South Korea where these horses are bred) and possibly a Thoroughbred).
About 13.1 hands, weighing around 825 pounds, Reckless had a blaze face and three stockings.
She received two Purple Hearts, Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
All were worn on her red and gold blanket, along with a French Fourragere earned by the 5th Marines.
Posthumously, Reckless was awarded the Dickin Medal, instituted in 1943 in the United Kingdom by Maria Dickin to honor the work of animals in World War II.
“Reckless came to be the symbol of the real heroic actions in that difficult war,” said retired Marine Col. Richard B. Rothwell, president of the Camp Pendleton Historical Society. “She persevered and didn’t give up.”
The statue is similar to one unveiled Reckless’ honor in July 2013 at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia, as part of a 60-year anniversary commemoration marking end of the Korean War.
For Robin Hutton, a writer who uncovered the horse’s story and in 2014 wrote a book, “Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse,” the statue has great meaning.
Hutton approached Rothwell about permanently honoring Reckless on the base where the mare last served and is buried.
Rothwell knew the horse’s legacy. It was his father, Col. Richard Rothwell, then commanding officer of the 5th Marine Regiment, who promoted Reckless to staff sergeant at Camp Pendleton.
I took two years to secure the funds and get authorization from the base commander, the Marine Corps headquarters and the secretary of the Navy.
The statue dedication last Wednesday, October 26, was exactly 63 years after Reckless started her service in the Marine Corps.
Rothwell remembers the stories his father told him about the horse when he was a teen. One of his favorites was about the Battle for Outpost Vegas in March 1953, when the Chinese attacked the strategic position.
The battle raged for five days, with more than 50 Marines killed and 701 wounded and evacuated.
Reckless had been taught to memorize the route went to the battlefront on her own.
“During one of these days, Reckless took 51 trips carrying ammunition to the front lines and wounded Marines back,” he said. “She was wounded twice and never stopped. It was such a heroic effort, her Marines made her a corporal.”
Later, Reckless was promoted to sergeant. In 1954, the 1st Marine Division returned from Korea.
Reckless was put on a ship and arrived in San Francisco on November. 9. She left the ship on November 10, the Marine Corps’ birthday, bound for Camp Pendleton.
Rothwell’s father promoted her to staff sergeant. When Reckless had her first foal, he named the foal Fearless. She had two more foals: Dauntless and Chesty.
In 1959, Gen. Randolph McCall Pate promoted Reckless to staff sergeant.
Reckless continued to take part in regimental ceremonies until she died at nearly 20 years old, on May 13, 1968, after an injury on the base.
“The statute recognizes Reckless and also symbolizes contributions of all Marines who fought in this forgotten war,” Rothwell said. “It’s not just a representation of Reckless but of the many men who fought and died in Korea.”