Sgt. Reckless: The Corps’ Beloved Korean War Horse

August 1, 2023Jenna Biter
Sergeant Reckless

Reckless, a racehorse-turned-war horse who served in the Korean War, pictured with her fellow Marines in 1953. US Marine Corps photo.

Four months before the Korean War armistice, the 1st Marine Division lost, recaptured, and then successfully defended Outpost Vegas, all within five days.

During the fierce and bloody battle in the hills of Yeoncheon, the Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Division, barraged the Chinese army with near-constant ordnance, doing their part to retake the outpost. One four-legged Marine, however, had a different task.

While mortar and artillery rounds whistled overhead, a war horse named Reckless suppressed her instinct to flee. Instead, she channeled her training and loyalty to the platoon that had become her herd. Despite the deafening sounds of battle, Reckless got to work resupplying her fellow Marines with the ammunition they needed to hold the line between North Korea and Seoul.

Sgt. Reckless

Reckless carries ammunition down a hill during the Korean War in 1953. US Marine Corps photo.

Unlike her platoon mates, Sgt. Reckless didn’t hail from Camp Pendleton. No, the Marine Corps’ beloved war horse began her life at a racetrack in Korea. After the war started in 1950, however, the filly’s destiny took a dramatic turn.

In October 1952, the young stable hand who owned Reckless, then known as Ah Chim Hai (Korean for “flame of the morning”), begrudgingly sold his chestnut mare to the United States Marine Corps for $250. As the story goes, the man needed the money to help his sister, who had lost a leg to a landmine. She required a prosthetic to live a more comfortable life, and the money would go a long way to help.

On the paying end of the $250 was Lt. Eric Pedersen of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, 5th Marines. Trucks were not well-suited to navigating the mountainous Korean Peninsula, so Pedersen needed a different way to transport the recoilless rifle’s massive 24-pound rounds. He decided that a horse could do the job. That’s when Ah Chim Hai came into the picture.

Sgt. Reckless

Sgt. Reckless at her rotation ceremony in Korea on Oct. 17, 1954. The war horse landed in the States that November. US Marine Corps photo.

Pedersen bought the racehorse from the young stable hand in Seoul. Upon her arrival to the platoon, the Marines renamed her “Reckless” for the nickname of the recoilless rifle. Immediately, the men put the horse to work. Reckless endured weeks of rigorous equine training, aptly called “hoof camp.” During that time, the mare acclimated to carrying the heavy weight of 75mm ammunition. She also learned to avoid stepping on communication lines and to react to incoming enemy fire by flattening herself on the ground.

After proving her mettle in early 1953, Reckless would meet her finest hour during the Battle for Outpost Vegas. While her fellow Marines exchanged salvos with attacking Chinese soldiers, the war horse trudged alone up grueling mountain trails and through exposed rice paddies. On each trip, again and again, Reckless delivered four to eight rounds of much-needed ammo from the supply depot to her platoon’s firing positions.

On one day in particular, the equine Marine completed a staggering 51 resupply missions covering 35 miles. Upon making a delivery, Reckless would receive a slap on the rump before turning around to start her next trip. The mare would also haul the injured to the rear despite sustaining injuries of her own. During the battle, shrapnel wounds to the head and flank earned Sgt. Reckless a pair of Purple Hearts.

Marine Corps Birthday Ball

Sgt. Reckless eats a well-deserved piece of cake during the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in San Francisco on Nov. 10, 1954. US Marine Corps photo.

Reckless sustained those wounds the same day she delivered 386 rounds of ammunition, weighing more than 9,000 pounds, or nearly 5 tons. As a result of her valiant efforts, she was promoted to the rank of corporal. 

So beloved was the mare by her fellow Marines, that she received another promotion on April 10, 1954, long after the armistice, this time to sergeant. She was still in Korea at the time but wouldn’t remain there for long. 

Days after Reckless’ promotion, the public read about her heroic service in the Saturday Evening Post. The story went viral (well, as viral as something could go in the 1950s), and the American people demanded that the legendary horse be brought to the States. As a result, she arrived in America by boat just in time for the Marine Corps’ birthday on Nov. 10, 1954. Sgt. Reckless attended the Corps’ ball in San Francisco, where, as the guest of honor, she was treated to a well-earned slice of cake.

Sergeant Reckless

Sgt. Reckless watches a procession by the 5th Marines, the regiment in which she served during the Korean War. Just before this photo was taken on Aug. 31, 1959, the mare was promoted to staff sergeant by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Randolph Pate at Camp Pendleton, California. US Marine Corps photo.

Five years after landing in the States, Sgt. Reckless received her final promotion. Gen. Randolph Pate, the commandant of the Marine Corps, personally pinned on her staff sergeant stripes. One year later, in 1960, the war horse officially retired at Camp Pendleton, California. In lieu of a pension, the Marine was given a lifetime of room and board — plus all the oats she could eat. 

Sgt. Reckless died in 1968 and was buried with full military honors.

Read Next: B.F. Skinner and the Unflappable Pigeon Pilots of WWII

Jenna Biter
Jenna Biter

Jenna Biter is a staff writer at Coffee or Die Magazine. She has a master’s degree in national security and is a Russian language student. When she’s not writing, Jenna can be found reading classics, running, or learning new things, like the constellations in the night sky. Her husband is on active duty in the US military. Know a good story about national security or the military? Email Jenna.

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