VFW Magazine — February 2017
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She Wasn’t A Horse, She Was A Marine
Kari Williams

SGT. RECKLESS, A MONGOLIAN RACING HORSE, BECOMES A MILITARY HERO DURING THE KOREAN WAR’S BATTLE FOR OUTPOST VEGAS.

She was a beer-drinking, scrambled-egg loving Marine who saved countless lives.

She earned two Purple Hearts, a National Defense Service Medal and Navy Unit Commendation, among other honors. But before that, she had to complete ‘hoof camp.’

Reckless, a Mongolian racing horse, left her potential life on the racetrack to carry ammunition and wounded Marines to and from battlefields during the Korean War with the 75th Recoilless Rifle Plt., Anti-Tank Co., 5th Marine Regt., 1st Marine Div.

Robin Hutton, who authored Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse, said Lt. Eric Pedersen, of the 75th Recoilless Rifle Pltn., “saw the need to get a pack animal of some kind” to carry ammunition across the rough terrain. After receiving permission, Pedersen visited a race track in Seoul, Korea, where he bought Reckless, then named Ah-Chim-Hai, for $250 from a man who sold her to “buy an artificial leg for his sister who lost hers in a land-mine accident.”

“They brought her back to camp on Oct. 26, 1952, and she became a Marine that day,” Hutton said.

They changed her name to Reckless, representing the recoilless rifle the unit used.

“That was also the attitude you had to have to be associated with that weapon because it was a very dangerous weapon,” Hutton said. “The back blast could really injure or kill someone.”

PREPARING FOR BATTLE

Reckless’ time in “hoof camp,” according to Hutton, consisted of learning how to run for her bunker and get in and out of a trailer. Tech. Sgt. Joe Latham, who worked with horses extensively in the past, trained her.

“She got so good at her commands that Joe Latham could use hand signals and tell her what to do,” Hutton said. “It was really quite amazing how she just trusted them and built this great bond with them.”

Latham, according to Hutton’s book, taught the Mongolian race horse to “lie down, even kneel, in case there was no cover and she needed to crawl into a shallow bunker for protection from incoming fire.”

Reckless’ first mission was in November 1952 at the firing line known as “Hedy’s Crotch,” a valley “between outposts Ingrid to the south and Hedy to the north, in the center sector of the Jamestown Line.”

“They weren’t sure how she was going to react to it,” Hutton said. “She got through it because she trusted her men.”

She also participated in Raid Tex in January 1953 and Operation Charlie in February. But it was the Battle for Outpost Vegas, a five-day battle in March 1953, that earned Reckless two Purple Hearts.

The battle for the area known as the “Iron Triangle” — with outposts Vegas, Reno and Carson — ran from March 26-30, with casualties upwards of 1,000.

Reckless’ job was to carry ammunition, and, according to Hutton, she transported the equivalent of what three to four Marines could carry. Reckless carried six to eight rounds — “sometimes even 10 if it required that.” Each round weighed 24 pounds.

Harold Wadley, who served with Able Co., 1st Marines, from 1952 to 1953 as a demolition specialist, reinforced the point. He was involved in the Battle for Outpost Vegas with Reckless as part of the assault force to retake Reno and Vegas.

“She was worth a dozen ammo carriers,” Wadley said.

Hutton wrote that Reckless “knew what she had to do” as Latham and Pvt. Monroe Coleman initially guided her.

“As she tackled the hill, the canisters bounced perilously; with all that extra weight strapped to her back, Latham feared the bindings would give way,” Hutton wrote. “Reckless clambered up the abrupt 45-degree incline, struggling to maintain her balance and fight gravity, but she made it to the top of the ridge and then navigated her way along 250 feet of twisting trail to get to the gun sites.”

Wadley heard rumors about Reckless before the Battle for Outpost Vegas that caused some to “wonder if that’s just pure scuttlebutt.” But he also saw her from a distance while on patrol.

In the preface to Hutton’s book, Wadley wrote that Reckless was “a critical lifeline to the guns firing in support of us.”

“When I looked back toward the Main Line of Resistance (MLR) from the lower finger of Outpost Reno the night of March 27, I could hardly believe my eyes,” Wadley wrote. “There she was, Reckless, barely visible in the flare light, like the ghost of a horse packing 75s up to the guns. She faded in and out of sight and was gone as we continued with the stretchers.”

Mortar shells were “falling like raindrops,” Hutton said.

“500 rounds [per] minute were coming in,” Hutton said. “There was so much incoming and outgoing fire, it couldn’t be traced on the radar.”

Reckless was “in the middle of all this chaos,” Hutton said. In one day, she made 51 trips, walking more than 35 miles — sometimes without a guide — “through open rice paddies and steep hills in view of the enemy” with six to eight loads per trip.

“[It was] over 9,000 pounds of ammunition that she carried, which is crazy,” Hutton said. “[But she] never balked. Never stopped. She was wounded twice by falling shrapnel.”

She also carried wounded off the battlefield, Hutton said.

In Hutton’s book, Wadley told of watching the Mongolian race horse take her fellow Marines to safety.

“They would tie a wounded Marine across her packsaddle and she would carry them out of there with all of this artillery and mortars coming in,” Wadley stated. “The guys down at the bottom would unload the wounded off of her and tie gun ammo on her and she would turn around right on her own and head right back up to the guns.”

What is “implanted” in Wadley’s memory is a night where flares were fired for light, and the way the flares swung, he said it looked “like a mirage at times.”

“There on the skyline was a horse loaded down pretty heavy… Boy, I thought, ‘She’s not going to live through this.’ Thank the Lord, she did,” Wadley said.

‘SHE LOVED HER BEER’

Reckless’s appetite was legendary, and ran the gamut from Hershey’s bars to apple pie.

“It was really funny,” Hutton said. “She loved her beer, of course. And she loved eating in the mess tent with the guys.”

Hutton confirmed as such in Sgt. Reckless, writing that the war horse’s diet was “surprisingly varied.”

“Naturally, her favorite stop was the galley tent,” Hutton wrote. “One morning, new recruit Pfc. Billy Jones offered to share his scrambled eggs with Reckless. She shocked the young Marine by not only scarfing down all the eggs, but then washing them down with coffee.”

Reckless earned her first taste of alcohol after a firing mission around Christmastime.

“[Reckless] walked into the tent there and the guys in jest said, ‘Hey Reckless, how about a beer?’ and she ponied up to the bar and she drank a beer.”

But the most unusual items she tried to eat were an ammo clip — Hutton said it “loosened up her teeth” — and an Australian bush hat. Members of Australia’s military were “so impressed with her,” that they gave Reckless the hat as a gift.

“She hated the hat,” Hutton said. “She looked ridiculous in it. It tickled her ears … One night, she ate it because she didn’t want to wear it anymore.”

Mike Mason, who served with Reckless from 1953-54 and is a trustee at VFW Post 2916 in Baltimore, said he met Reckless about four to five months after arriving in Korea. His first impression was that she was a “very gentle horse.” Having not served in battle with Reckless, Mason saw her humorous side, such as coming into his eight-man tent to wake the corporal for food. If he didn’t wake up, Mason said, Reckless would pull off the blanket with her teeth.

In another instance, Mason said there was a “ruckus” outside around dinner time and they thought North Koreans had “decided to come get us.” In reality, mess hall cooks were shooing Reckless away from pies that were cooling.

“They had to know where she was at before they could put anything out to cool,” Mason said.

Reckless, according to Mason, was comfortable around the Marines.

“She adapted to the Marines like we were one of her and she was one of us,” Mason said.

John Newsom, who served with Reckless and is a member of VFW Post 1985 in Woodland, Calif., said the war horse would come into their camps and eat their food. He served with her for one year and said she was “a great asset.”

“I feel toward [my dog] like I felt toward Reckless,” Newsom said. “She was ours — our baby, our pet.”

‘LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT’

Once the Korean War ended, Reckless was brought stateside to Camp Pendleton, in southern California, where Pedersen lives. Hutton said Reckless lived at Pedersen’s ranch for about a year until she was moved to the Marine Corps base. She resided there until her death in 1968.

In October 2016, a statue honoring the war horse was unveiled on base. Debbie McCain, a clerk at Camp Pendleton, said the ceremony was “absolutely gorgeous.”

“There are a lot of dedication ceremonies, but this one was really special because of who it was dedicated to,” McCain said.

McCain has known of Reckless since 1954, thanks to her father, who served during the Korean War. She met Reckless shortly after moving to California in the late 1950s.

“It was love at first sight,” McCain said. “Little girls, we all love horses… She let us all brush her and love on her and feed her carrots. She would eat anything that you had. So if you didn’t share your lunch with her, she would pester you to death.”

But what she liked so much about Reckless was that she was “almost human.”

“She could recognize people,” McCain said. “She would see me coming from the parking lot, whinny at me and come up to the fence knowing that I had something for her, which I always did.”

'LARGER THAN LIFE PROJECT'

Wildlife artist Jocelyn Russell, who is based on the San Juan Islands off the Washington state coast, created the original statue at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., and the more recent addition at Camp Pendleton.

Hutton initially contacted Russell in 2011.

Bob Rogers, a patron of one of Russell’s art shows in Tulsa, Okla., served with Reckless.
Russell said Hutton reached out to Rogers about serving with Reckless and told him she was interested in having a monument created.

Before Hutton contacted her, Russell said, she had not heard of Reckless. Russell said she was hesitant at first to take on the project, but horses have always been her first love.

“[Robin] wanted to sell a monument project, but couldn’t approach donors without having a concept,” Russell said.

Therefore, Russell created a pose and Team Reckless was formed among Russell, Hutton, Wadley and Rogers. Russell was willing to take a chance on a “larger than life project.”

The artist said she appreciated Reckless’ “impish side” and the fact that she could be naughty, “yet get down to business.”

“I found her very endearing,” Russell said.

The first statue was installed at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, in Triangle, Va., in 2013. The Camp Pendleton project was a four-month process, but the initial project took two years, according to Russell.

Russell said the most challenging aspect of the project was replicating the tack and ammunition that Reckless carried.

Hutton said Russell’s work is “so incredible that you feel this horse moving.”

The ceremony, at which Hutton spoke, exceeded her expectations, and nearly 600 people attended.

“It was breathtaking for me,” Hutton said. “It was just that moment of honor.”

A third monument also is in the works in Yeoncheon, South Korea, for Chairman Park of Marine House USA, according to Russell. The organization provides outreach, networking and philanthropic aid to Marines and their families, according to the organization’s website.

Representatives took Russell and Hutton to South Korea in May to visit the site of a new museum, which will house the monument.

McCain said Marines stand by the saying, “No Marine Left Behind,” and Reckless never left anyone behind.

“If it hadn’t been for that little horse there would not be some of the generations of Marines and families here today,” McCain said.

Reckless received two promotions, one in 1957 and the next in 1959.

Robin Hutton received two certificates of appreciation from VFW for her work in keeping Reckless’ memory alive.

Two statues honoring Reckless already exist, the first at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and the other at Camp Pendleton. A third will be located at Yeoncheon, South Korea.

Reckless appeared on Art Linkletter’s "House Party."
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