Sunday, July 19, 2015

"She Wasn't a Horse . . . She Was a Marine!"

                                                                    Milton C. Toby photograph
by Milton C. Toby

Sgt. Reckless?

The name conjures up fond memories of the comic books I read as a kid, of a larger-than-life superhero battling villains shoulder-to-shoulder with characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and the other Avengers. But when it comes to Sgt. Reckless, truth actually is stranger than comic book fiction.

The conflict in Korea had raged for more than two years when Marine Lt. Eric Pedersen traveled to Seoul looking for a horse.  He served with the Anti-Tank and Recoilless Rifle Platoon and he hoped to find a sturdy animal to transport the weapon's bulky and heavy 75-millimeter artillery shells. Lt. Pedersen eventually paid $250 to a family in Seoul for "Flame." Saying that Flame exceeded expectations would be a gross understatement!

Renamed "Reckless" after the platoon's nickname for the recoilless rifle, the little mare quickly became a valued member of the unit, hauling load after load of shells, rolls of communication wire, supplies, and, when necessary, a wounded Marine. Her finest hour came in March 1953, during the battle for Outpost Vegas. Reckless made trip after perilous trip to the front during the firefight, carrying nearly 200 pounds of artillery shells each time up and down steep and treacherous terrain.

Wounded twice by shrapnel during the battle--she earned two Purple Hearts--Reckless soldiered on. The battle "broke the back of the enemy," one of the Marines from Outpost Vegas later recalled. He added that Reckless was the hero of the day. In addition to the Purple Hearts, her military awards included the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation with Star, the Navy Unit Citation, the National Defense Service Medal, and a batch of other commendations. She wore them all, along with her Staff Sergeant chevrons, on her blanket.

Remembering Sgt. Reckless at the
National Museum of the Marine Corps
If you haven't heard of Sgt. Reckless, no worries. The little mare was a media superstar for a time after the Korean War, achieving popularity equal to that accorded other animal stars like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin. Eventually, though, her story, like those of many deserving war heroes, faded into obscurity. If you have heard of Sgt. Reckless, on the other hand, it is almost certainly a result of the efforts of her biggest fan and supporter, Robin Hutton.

For the last decade, Robin has pushed relentlessly for recognition of Sgt. Reckless as a war hero. She was the driving force behind a spectacular memorial to Sgt. Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia, within shouting distance of the Marine base at Quantico. A fund-raising effort now is underway to erect a similar statute at Camp Pendleton, the Southern California Marine base where Reckless spent her post-war years and produced three foals. For more information, click here for more information.

Robin also is the author of  Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse, published in 2014 by Regnery History. The book won a well-deserved American Horse Publications editorial award as the best equine book of the year and is a great read about a remarkable horse. Commenting on the award winner, the judge called Sgt. Reckless "an amazingly detailed, fascinating, and documented saga of a war horse who served the Marines during the Korean War--a spunky, intelligent little horse that ate bread, uncooked oatmeal, Hershey bars, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, carrots and apples, loved beer, disliked dogs, slept in a Marine's tent on cold nights, and was devoted to the soldiers she served."

It's a story well worth telling, and a book well worth reading. A paperback edition of Sgt. Reckless is due in August.


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I'd never heard about Sgt. Reckless, but I'm going to do a little spotlight on the book now to help others learn about her, as well!

    ~Lynette @ Escaping Reality - One Book at a Time

  2. Thanks for reading, Lynette. Reckless was an amazing horse in a war than everyone wanted to forget, and it's great that she finally is getting the attention and respect that she deserves!

  3. Great post, Milt. I know the author, Robin Hutton, and have read the book. Reckless was amazing. Every horse lover needs to understand the dedication to service that she had.

  4. Thanks, Lisa. I had dinner with Robin a few days ago when she was in Lexington promoting her book at Breyerfest, an incredibly big deal at the Kentucky Horse Park. Breyer came out with a Sgt. Reckless model last year and I'm sure Robin had a good turnout at her table this time.