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Life Arts

The Forgotten Korean War Horse Heroine

By       Message Suzana Megles     Permalink

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Just like the Korean War which is considered a forgotten war, so this wonderful Korean "veteran" was also forgotten- even though Andrew Geer wrote a book about this little red mare in 1955.  But thankfully, someone on Care2 recently reminded us about her with their post.  Further information was retrieved from the internet.  There I found a  1992 article about "Sgt. Reckless"  written by Nancy Lee White Hoffman which was published  in the ''Leatherneck'' - the magazine of Marines.  
 
Hoffman so wonderfully starts her post with something I'm sure most of us have forgotten - that in the 1950's the idea of American women in combat was a controversial one and almost unheard of.  But she quickly lets us know that at least ONE female saw combat in the Korean War, and she was a Marine named Reckless.
 
Lt. General Randolph McC.Pate said he saw this little lady for the first time when the First Marine Division was in reserve for a brief period.  Of her he noted:  "I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence and believe it or not, her esprit de corps.  Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades.  She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance.  If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk in a group of Marines and in effect, enter the conversation.  It was obvious the Marines loved her."
 
I loved this description of her by the Lt. General.  Great job.  I could just see her chugging a beer and making herself visible wherever a group of Marines formed.  While I certainly don't want to take anything away from Spielberg's "War Horse," the movie was taken from a novel whose author used various accounts of stories told him re the WW I horses.  So Joey was not really one horse but several in reality.  But here with Reckless is a true story - truly an American story played out during the Korean War.  And this one  will bring joy to any one reading about her, especially if you love and care about horses. I hope that one day her story will be told in a movie.  Maybe Glenn Close who
helped produce her latest film "Albert Nobbs" and who I believe loves animals may think so too.     
 
Reckless was a small sorrel or chestnut-colored horse with a white blaze on her face and three white stocking feet.  She was recruited into the Marine Corps in October of 1952 by Lt. Eric Pedersen who was the commanding officer of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Antibank Company, Fifth Marine Regiment. 
 
The recoilless rifle was first introduced in WWII.  It was an antitank weapon which could be carried by three or four men and project a 75-mm. shell several yards with precision.  But it had a drawback - its terrific back blast made it impossible to conceal from the enemy and immediate return fire was always a concern.   Rounds for the recoilless rifle also were heavy -each weighing 24 pounds.  A Marine ammunition carrier could carry 3 to 4 rounds.  Soon it became apparent to Lt.
Pedersen that a horse could prove invaluable in helping to carry ammunition for his platoon's recoilless rifles.
 
Lt. Pedersen received permission to go in search of one, and one day he and two other Marines set off for the Seoul racetrack.   There he spotted this little red racehorse  "Flame" as she was called then.  The young Korean who owned her and loved her dearly agreed to sell her only because he needed the money desparately to purchase an artificial leg for his wounded sister.   So, his beloved "Ah Chim-Hai"- Korean for "Flame of the Morning" became the property of Lt.
Pedersen which he paid for from his own pocket.   She would indeed later prove herself worth every penny and much, much more to the Recoilless Rifle Platoon of Lt. Pedersen. 
 
The three Marines loaded her up in a jeep trailer, and even though it was dark when they arrived at the camp, members of the RR Pit. were there to welcome the new recruit.  But leave it to the guys to later rename her "Reckless" after the reckless rifle nickname the Marines had given the weapon.  Personally, I like Flame better, but her new name in no way was derogatory and would forever link her to the recoiiless rifles whose rounds she would carry so successfully in the war.   
 
The new "recruit" required adequate accomodations, and in the next few days the platoon built a bunker and fenced in a small area for a pasture.  Without adequate provisions for a horse, Reckless' first meal consisted of a loaf of bread and uncooked oatmeal.  But soon after, Platoon Sgt. Latham brought to camp a trailer full of barley, sorghum, hay and rice straw and he even later brought her a salt block. Reckless was lucky that there were Marines who had prior experience with horses.  
 
But just like most of us who have fed our dogs and even cats- table scraps, the Marines did the same with Reckless.  They found that not only did she like apples and carrots, but she even ate some scrambled eggs that were offered to her.  And unbelievably, she even washed them down with coffee.  She indeed was considered one of them, and from then on would sometimes partake and enjoy their breakfasts of bacon, scrambled eggs, and buttered toast.  
 
During her first few nights at camp, she was tied in her bunker.  But soon she was given free rein to roam about and she did so indeed.  She would some times visit the Marines in their tents, and some even allowed her to spend the night with them.  Happily for her on very cold nights, Sgt. Latham would invite her into his tent to sleep standing up next to the stove.  Sometimes she even managed to lie down and stretch out.
 
Soon the serious training began and Latham taught her how to get in and out of a jeep trailer where she would be tied down.  He also trained her to head toward a bunker when incoming rounds hit behind the lines.  All he had to do to get here into a bunker is yell "Incoming,, incoming!" and she would go.
 
Lt. Pedersen had asked his wife to send a much needed pack saddle so that  Reckless could learn to carry loads of six rounds or even more -though Lt. Pedersen made it clear that once she was trained to carry the rounds, that he was not in favor of her carrying a heavier load unless it was very necessary. 
 
After the initial successful training with the pack load, Latham offered Reckless her first Coke.  She eagerly lapped up the soda from his helmet and then she nudged his arm for more!  Even though naval hospital corpsman George Mitchell was not a veterinarian,  he advised that she not be given more than a couple of bottles a day.  I think it was a wise decision.   
 
Soon enough the time came for her baptism by fire in war and her job carrying her first load of ammo.  With the sound of the terrific blast -for a second, Reckless went straight up into the air and came down trembling with fright. PFC Coleman who led her into battle tried to soothe her, but  Reckless only snorted. Finally a fter a series of blasts, she settled down and no longer showed her initial fear from the weapons being fired.
 
As she proved invaluable in this war time endeavor, she would also be invaluable when the 5th Marines were relieved for a brief period. Reckless was then used to string  communications wire, and it was said that she could string more telephone wire in a day than almost a dozen Marines.   
 
I was eager to read further into this 15-page post -especially the part of her getting medals for bravery. B ut then finding the reasons made me realize how much she endured and suffered to earn them.    
 
In January 1953 a platoon from "Dog" Company led by Lt. Tom Boger conducted the raid north of Outpost Berlin.  It was supported by Staff Sergeant John Lisenby and his gun section from the RR Pit. On that day  Reckless hauled ammunition all day long.  
 
In February Reckless was again used in "Raid Charlie."  it was estimated that Reckless made 24 trips from the ammunition supply point to the firing sites and that she had traveled over 20 miles and carried a total of 3,500 pounds during the day.  It was not surprising that she returned to her pasture and bunker after dark with head hanging. 
 
She was met by Lt. Pederson at the bunker and fed a bucket of warm bran mash.  Two Marines on each side of her gave her a thorough rubdown.  She was covered with a blanket and before her friends left, she was sound asleep. Thank goodness - not all her days were so tough, and she spent many of them resting in her pasture between missions.  
 
Reckless was trained to step over communication lines and get down when incoming fire arrived.  Not only did this little Mongolian mare who weighed only 900 pounds transport ammunition for the company, but she also transported injured soldiers back to base camp, and even provided cover for some of them during the battle.  And what is clearly amazing is that she did this all on her own.
 
In March 1953 at Outpost "Vegas," Reckless made 51 trips up steep hills and through rice paddies.  She carried over 9,000 pounds of ammunition that day and covered over 35 miles while artillery was exploding around her at over 5,000 rounds per minute. 
 
She did not escape injury, and was wounded once in her left flank and once above an eye.  Her ears were cut by barbed wire but thankfully, the injury was not serious.  She was awarded two purple hearts for those wounds.  The Marines were not ungrateful  for her bravery and courage, and officially promoted her to the rank of Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.  Upon retirement, she received the additional rank of Staff Sergeant at Camp Pendleton, California.
 
Later she would be awarded medals: the Good Conduct Medal, Presidential unit Citation with star, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nationals Service Medal and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.  She wore them proudly on her red and gold blanket whenever she was paraded around at official functions.  If only Kim Huck Moon, her original owner, could have seen her now.  How proud he would have been and justly so.
 
There is much more to read about this wonderful "small" mare.  Sadly, when she needed to be transported by ship while the war was raging, the Navy balked.  They weren't too happy to have her on board their "clean" ship.  Another happier time at war's end and a kind benefactor came forward and provided the money to bring her to America.  Certainly, she was American now.  Here she  later give birth to three colts and a filly.  The fourth one died a month after birth.  Sadly, she too would die at a comparatively young age of 20 from an injury suffered. 
 
I laughed when I remembered "Heaven is for Real" and the young boy said he saw Jesus with a colored horse.  Maybe it was Reckless!
 
What can we do to show gratitude for this wonderful life of this small but brave Mongolian mare who served with our Marines with distinction in Korea?  Here are some suggestions:  
 
1. If you haven't asked your Congress legislators to support HR 2966 and S.1176 -  THE SLAUGHTER HORSE BAN, please do so NOW.   (I received so many e-mail petition requests re saying NO to the Keystone Pipe Line and the Anti-Piracy Internet Act, but comparatively few from the Horse Charities re the ban.  Where are you?  We
need you to bombard the President and the Congress re this Ban with thousands and thousands of signatures.
 
2.  If you are a teacher -Jo-Claire an Oped member, suggested that children's letters are powerful.  Help them learn how to write re important matters such as this one to the President and our legislators.  I think they will be impressed and hopefully react positively.
 
3.  If Stephen Spielberg can produce a movie re horses in WWI, how about a  movie about our own Korean war and the place which Sgt. Reckless occupies in it? We need someone to give Sgt. Reckless her due with a TRUE movie about her life.
 
4. What about a lasting monument to Sgt. Reckless?  She could be memorialized at Camp Pendelton or even better yet- find a place with the Marines she served with at the Korean Memorial in Washington.  
 
 

 

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