Sergeant Reckless: The $250 Hero

Sergeant RecklessVeterans Day is upon us—the day set aside to remember those who have served in our country’s military. When I was trying to decide how to approach today’s blog post, I had my usual brainstorming session. (Yeah, that’s pretty dangerous territory.) Of course, there have been many great military heroes who would meet my criteria of being a true story of the American West. But how many of those would tie in with my great affection for horses? That’s when I knew who the subject of this Veterans Day blog post had to be none other than the remarkable Sergeant Reckless!

A Korean War veteran (and a horse!), Sergeant Reckless was named one of America’s 100 Greatest Heroes by Time Magazine, in a 1997 special collector’s edition. Yes, she was right up there with George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. Yet, few people today know about this great American hero. Let’s see if we can change that.

The $250 Investment

RecklessReckless wasn’t born a sergeant. She wasn’t even born a U.S. citizen, but she was to become one of the greatest war heroes in U.S. history. Reckless was part Mongolian and part Thoroughbred and originally belonged to a Korean stable boy. The stable boy’s older sister had lost a leg in a land mine accident and he selflessly sold his horse to pay for her prosthetic leg. In 1952, Lt. Eric Pederson purchased the horse for $250.00 of his own money. At the time, Lt. Pederson had no way of knowing that his investment would pay off in such a monumental way.

Reckless was purchased for the purpose of carrying ammunition to the front lines for the 77mm Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marine Regiment. She even got her name from the Recoilless. Eventually, Recoilless was changed to Reckless after the platoon’s nickname, “Reckless Rifles.” It was soon apparent that Reckless was no ordinary packhorse and that she was far from reckless in her behavior.

Taking Horse Training to a New Level

Reckless supply routesFor a horse to carry supplies and ammunition, during combat is impressive. For a horse to evacuate the wounded is noble. For a horse to learn how to do all of those things without the benefit of a handler is so monumentally extraordinary that I had to look in Roget’s Thesaurus just to discover that I couldn’t come up with anything more fitting than “monumentally extraordinary!” It only took a couple of trips for Reckless to memorize each supply route. And, somehow, she was able to locate the injured men and take them to receive medical treatment without any direction from anyone.

RecklessReckless was taught to lie down when under fire and how to avoid becoming snared by barbed wire. And, she showed a good deal of horse sense by learning to run for a bunker when she heard, “INCOMING!”

All in a Day’s Work

Reckless solo tripsOne day, in March of 1953, Reckless made fifty-one solo trips to resupply the units on the front line, at the Battle of Panmunjom-Vegas (also known as the Battle of Outpost Vegas). Throughout the course of that day, she covered a total distance of more than thirty-five miles and hauled over 9000 pounds of ammunition! That’s not even taking into consideration the number of wounded she carried down the mountain to safety. With every trip up the mountain to deliver arms, she’d bring down wounded soldiers. That’s thirty-five miles, up and down mountains, with enemy fire coming in at a rate of five hundred rounds per minute!

RecklessThe very idea of a riderless horse voluntarily walking into open combat makes me gasp. During the three-day Battle of Panmunjom-Vegas, Reckless was wounded twice. Both times, she was hit by shrapnel. One hit was above the eye and the other was on her left flank. Yet, she continued her trips. She even shielded four marines who were attempting to make their way to the front lines. For her valor, Reckless was promoted to Corporal! Following the war, she was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and a Korean Service Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star, and other honors.

But Reckless didn’t let rank go to her head! When not facing combat conditions, she proved useful for stringing telephone wire and packing other supplies. It is said that Reckless could string as much telephone wire as twelve men!

Reckless telephone wire

She Ate Like a Horse

Paddy Derby

Her platoon didn’t just love her for her acts of valor. They loved her because she was just plain lovable! It’s not difficult to imagine how much comfort and entertainment she must have provided for a bunch of war-weary, homesick Marines.

Reckless eatingReckless was allowed to freely roam the camp, which led to some interesting situations. She made herself right at home. If she was cold, she slept in any tent of her choosing. If she was hungry, she ate. She ate like a horse, and yet, not like any horse you’ve ever known! She loved a breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs and a cup of Joe! It’s hard to believe she wasn’t born in the U.S! She was also fond of Hershey bars, cake, beer and Coca Cola, although the platoon medic did advise that she not be given more than two bottles of Coke a day. Moderation is important, even for war heroes!

If she felt she was being ignored…Well, let’s just say it was best to not ignore Sergeant Reckless. She was known to chow down on blankets, helmet liners, hats and poker chips, when she felt she wasn’t receiving enough attention. She was not a woman to be trifled with!

Semper Fidelis

RecklessWhen the Korean War ended, Sergeant Reckless went stateside, to Camp Pendleton. On November 10, 1954, Reckless took her first steps on the soil of the country she had served so well. She was home. Her arrival coincided with the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, which she attended. Always a lady, Reckless rode an elevator, ate some cake and then polished off the flower arrangements!

In 1954 and 1955, Reckless was featured in editions of The Saturday Evening Post. In 1955, she was the subject of the book, Reckless: Pride of the Marines. She made public appearances and even appeared on Art Linkletter’s “House Party” television show. Had it not been for an ill-timed typhoon, she would have appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Camp PendletonWhile at Camp Pendleton, Reckless received two promotions, one to sergeant and, in 1959, to staff sergeant. Her promotion to Staff Sergeant included a nineteen-gun salute from General Randolph Pate, who presided over the ceremony. There was also a parade of 1,700 troops, from Reckless’ old outfit!

Reckless retirementAt Camp Pendleton, Reckless produced four foals, three of which survived. On November 10, 1960, Reckless was retired from full-time military service, with full military honors. According to Marine documents, Reckless was provided with room and board, in lieu of retirement pay.

Reckless funeralReckless passed away in May of 1968. She was believed to have been nineteen or twenty years old. A plaque honoring her remains at Camp Pendleton. A statue of Reckless was unveiled in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, on July 26, 2013. That was one day before the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

And so, as we observe Veterans Day, let us not forget about the most decorated horse in U.S. military history. Semper Fi, Reckless. Semper Fi.

Watch this video of the beloved Reckless, as told by someone who knew her well!

Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

27 Replies to “Sergeant Reckless: The $250 Hero”

  1. Thank you for sharing this, it was so interesting and brought tears to my eyes. God works in wonderous ways and He certainly did bless many using this little horse!

    1. For sure Lynne, pass the box of Kleenex!!! Reckless surely was a gift to these Marines. . .I wonder how many lives she saved. Thanks so much for the kind words, I’m delighted that you enjoyed the story!

  2. I saw this on my facebook and I am interested in horses and always have been since I have been 5 years old. When I read this story I felt warm and a love for what Reckless went through and what she done. She done this like our service soldiers do everyday with out any questions asked. I had a horse that would follow me around and when I had to let her go because of where I lived it broke my heart. But I am hoping that someday I will beable to get another one again.
    Reckless has my greatest respect for what she has done. And I am glad that they have Statue to honor her. To u Reckless (Semper Fi) Love u for ur courage.

  3. I thought that ur story on Reckless was a very warm one. She was a very brave and courageous animal. I am glad that they have a statue in honor of her and how she helped the soldier and saw them through the war. To Reckless (Semper Fi).

    1. I’m so happy that you liked the story, Rose Marie! The story of Reckless and her accomplishments during the war is a testament to all horses, and their innate desire to please. There was just no limit to what she would do for the men she served.

  4. I had heard about Reckless via a U.S. based model horse company a couple of months ago. Breyer Horses has produced an incredibly realistic, to-scale model of Sergeant Reckless. As an avid Breyer collector, I can attest to their models’ amazing durability. I have had models topple off of high shelves onto a wooden floor and not one of them has broken. Also, the craftsmanship is of the highest quality. I would highly recommend their Reckless model (complete with her blanket and medals). It can be found at, Amazon, or eBay.

    1. Hi Bethany, thanks for sharing this about the Breyer horses! They are very popular, and I am really happy to know that they have created a Reckless Breyer horse. I hoe that you enjoyed reading about what made her so special!

  5. I’ve been sitting at my desk with a serene smile on my face for the past 15 minutes as I read this post and watched the video. Such a lovely story. And it looks like Reckless was fairly petite, which makes her feats all the more impressive. Thanks for sharing her story.

  6. Mares are the best! What a wonderful story – and an artful capture, as usual, Anita, of the story and accompanying photography. I think I’ve met a few Sergeant Reckless’s in my life. Not all are given the chance to shine, but those that are understood and appreciated give it their all, even if it’s on a smaller scale. I always amazed at how adept and giving smart mares are when offered a chance to be included in the conversation.

  7. So glad you provided a link to this story! Again, wonderfully done! Another horse story I have never heard of! My whole life was horses when I was a little girl. We lived on a ranch and there were very few humans nearby for friends! Still love horses SO MUCH! So nice to read about this wonderful Marine!

  8. Hi Anita –

    I read your wonderful article about Reckless and the video was great – brought tears to my eyes. Thank You.


  9. I left a comment before I watched the video, actually, it is a long one, lol! I just had so much to say about Sgt.Reckless!!! My daughter is a 2nd Lt. In our awesome Marine Corp.!! Please read my other comment and know that I salute our Girls in the Marines, and Especially our true American Hero a little sorrel mare named Sgt.Reckless!! Semper Fidelis!!! Love this story, Thank you again so much for e’er posting the perfect story, also I’m a Navy Veteran, my Brother is an Army Veteran and my biggest Hero, my Daddy, he’s a Retired Army Capt. He went in an Green Beret, went on to an Army Ranger, flew Fixed Wing Airplanes and fought in Viet Nam, and Retired as a Rotor Wing Capt.(helicopters ) he watched the Wall go up in Berlin and we watched it come down, he has so much he still can’t tell me! Anyway, I grew up an Army brat so I feel I can relate to the young girl in the story who got to go on base with her Daddy to visit and pet Sgt. Reckless, I heard from y Dad all the German Shepherds who helped out in the Viet Nam War to be left behind and not brought back to the States and receive Honors for their Duty to this Country and the tragedy of those dogs and how the Gov’t. Is doing it again to our combat dogs overseas now, our bomb dogs are being left behind and not coming home to be Honored for their Service!! Anyway, I have horses and dogs and I’m so glad we got to bring back Sgt.Reckless, she was a true Angel or Spirit Horse, War Pony, an American Hero, God Bless and Rip little mare,I hope you’re running wild and free like our Wild Mustang’s, but in Heaven, because I will look for you when my time comes and I’ll bring you the reddest, juices,sweetest,apple I can find!! OK, I’m done, Thank you so much for your Service to all the Military Members out there, I stand at Attention and Salute All of You this Memorial Day Weekend!! That includes all of our furbabies who are Enlisted too…..Thank you again for posting such an awesome story!!! Hope you have a wonderful, safe, weekend!!!!

    1. Hi Denise, thanks for taking the time to write and share your story with us. What a remarkable family you have, thank you so much for your service! Your dad was right about the military working dogs, at that time in our history standard procedure was to leave the dogs behind, ot to euthanize them. Fortunately that has changed, and we now make every effort to rehome them after their retirement. You will enjoy this blog story I wrote about the MWD’s, and their lives yesterday and today:

  10. Comment from S Africa
    I am not a horse person but I am an animal person – mainly dogs – & I really enjoyed reading this too. Lots of tissues I am afraid. Re dogs, there was a fab article in the Nat Geographic Mag a few months ago about Army Dogs in Afghanistan. Terry

  11. I hope you don’t mind- I’m sharing your story to illustrate a point for a talk for my church’s scouting-type youth group. They will enjoy it, I am sure. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story.

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