Staff Sergeant Reckless

Photo courtesy of United States Marine Corps
(1949 – 1968)
Owned by First Marine Division Association
Inducted: 2014


Photo courtesy of United States Department of Defense (USMC)
Photo courtesy of United States Marine Corps Archives
Photo courtesy of Gerald Smigiel
Photo courtesy of Joseph Roy
Photo courtesy of United States Marine Corps Archives
Photo courtesy of National Museum of the Marine Corps
Small in size, but huge in heart and spirit, Reckless was a "Jeju" pony who became the real-life warhorse of the U.S. Marine Fifth Regiment during the Korean War.

In the mountainous terrain along the border between North and South Korea, much of the combat was trench warfare from ridgelines, and often utilized the 75mm recoilless rifles. Deadly accurate at long ranges, the weapon came with a caveat - it used shells that weighed more than 20 pounds each, which had to be dragged up the hills.

For Lieutenant Eric Pedersen, the commander of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, and a lifelong horseman, the solution was a horse. Heading for Seoul, South Korea's capital, he found what he wanted at the old racetrack that had been reborn as a U.S. Army airstrip. Though the track was gone, destroyed with the rest of the city in multiple battles, some Korean horsemen were still tending to their ponies, hoping that racing would resume again.

Pedersen paid $250 of his own money for the three-year-old filly and headed for base camp. It was October, 1952, and then-named Flame turned away from a future in racing and joined the U.S. Marines. Renamed Reckless for the "reckless" rifles she would supply, she was given the rank of private first class and the serial number 1-H.

Pedersen and his gunnery sergeant, Joe Latham, trained Reckless slowly and carefully, conditioning her to the sights and sounds of war while encouraging the other Marines to build a bond with her. In short order, she became an integral member of the platoon, learning quickly to run into her bunker when incoming fire hit the camp, navigate the trails and hills, and calmly accept the roar of the recoilless rifles at close range.

By January 1953, Reckless had been promoted to corporal, and routinely was packing ammunition when the recoilless rifle squads engaged in skirmishes and firefights, and longer planned operations. But brave and steadfast as she was in combat from the start, it was the savage Battle for Outpost Vegas in April 1953 that revealed the true extent of her courage and resilience.

For the better parts of three days and nights, she hauled ammunition -- to the recoilless rifles by day and the mortar crews by night -- with periodic breaks for water and feed, and short periods of sleep. Trained to travel by herself, she prompted one Marine to observe that she was so fast, no handler could keep up with her, anyway. She was wounded twice, patched up and resumed her work without hesitation. Time and again, her fellow Marines marveled at her resoluteness, as she maneuvered across areas where shrapnel was falling, and ran along the narrow berms beside the rice paddies, never stepping off into the mine-laden bogs.

In one day alone, during that terrible April siege, she made 51 trips to the recoilless rifles sites, in all traveling more than 35 miles. She carried 386 of the heavy shells, each weighing 20 to 23 pounds, depending on their content -- a total of over 9,000 pounds of explosives. Then, descending the ridge to reload, she carried the wounded or dead on her back. It is acknowledged that because of what Reckless accomplished in battle, many Marines came home who might not have otherwise.

Simply put, she was one of them. Her buddies cut her no slack, yet protected her with their lives -- at times, taking off their flak jackets to cover her instead. They were bound together, an amazing unit that accomplished more than either she or her fellow Marines could have done alone. She was also their friend, if only for a few minutes at a time, raising their spirits and making them laugh. Ever the character, she shared their C-rations and mess hall chow, beers and an occasional whiskey, and on cold nights, their warm tents. Indeed, when she wasn't executing her combat functions, she thought being the center of attention was her due.

In April 1954, Reckless was promoted to sergeant by one of her many fans, General Randolph McCall Pate, the highest ranking Marine in Korea. Six months later, the promise that she would not be left behind was kept, and Sergeant Reckless sailed for California and a hero's welcome.

Stationed at Camp Pendleton, she continued on active-duty for the next six years. She appeared at official functions, accompanied her Marines on their long training marches, and in other ways represented the Fifth Regiment. At her final promotion to Staff Sergeant Reckless in 1959, General Pate, now commandant of the Marine Corps, again did the honors as three thousand Marines and guests watched. The following year, Reckless was formally retired to a life of leisure, in her own quarters at the base stables.

Over the years, her visitors numbered in the thousands, many from the Korean War days coming back with their wives and children to pay their respects to their warhorse. As one explained, it was important for him to tell his family what she had done for the Marines.

Today, Reckless' statue stands at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia. In stride, four shells strapped to her back, she again climbs a hill to supply the recoilless rifles. Acquired by the Recoilless Rifle Platoon to haul ammunition to the front lines, she did that and so much more - packing ammunition beyond what anyone thought possible, saving lives, raising spirits, and winning the love and respect of all who knew her.