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Sergeant Reckless

Efforts under way to memorialize California's true war horse

From Horsetrader staff reports - February 6th, 2014 - Cover Story, Show & Event News

The wartime heroics of a mare named Sgt. Reckless on the Korean front lines endeared her to fellow marines.

The wartime heroics of a mare named Sgt. Reckless on the Korean front lines endeared her to fellow marines.

Courtesy of Robin Hutton

MOORPARK — Robin Hutton has a horse story to tell, and it’s a very good one.

Hutton, a writer who has weaved horses into her work throughout her career, encountered Sergeant Reckless and was astonished the mare had slipped through a generation barely noticed.

“I read two paragraphs about her, and I just could not believe I had never heard of this horse,” says Hutton. “She’s just an amazing character and hero.”

Sgt. Reckless is a genuine war horse. For five days in March 1953, the little red mare came through for the U.S. Marines on the Korean front, making 51 deliveries of ammunition from the supply point to firing sites — deliveries that no one else could make. She carried 386 rounds– about five tons– 35 miles through rice paddies and up steep hills while enemy fire roared around her during the Battle of Outpost Vegas.

One of the Marines who fought alongside Reckless said years later that an angel must have been riding her that day. It was a miracle she survived.

The USMC rewarded with an occasional beer as well as official rank as staff sergeant in 1959.

The USMC rewarded with an occasional beer as well as official rank as staff sergeant in 1959.

Courtesy of Robin Hutton

The 13-hand Mongolian had moved from a Seoul racetrack to the Marines’ camp after a lieutenant had purchased her from a Korean boy for $250. Marines taught her to step over communication wires, lie down on command and kneel. A quick study, she was led a few times up and down to battle stations before she remembered the way and took the route alone.

Written accounts of the battles are vivid.

“The savagery of the battle for the so-called Nevada Complex has never been equaled in Marine Corps history,” reads one account. This particular battle “was to bring a cannonading and bombing seldom experienced in warfare…28 tons of bombs and hundreds of the largest shells turned the crest of Vegas into a smoking, death-pocked rubble.”

And Reckless was in the middle of it, exposed to enemy fire. She would carry wounded soldiers down the mountain to safety, unload them, get reloaded with ammo, and off she would go back up to the guns. She also provided a shield for several Marines who were trapped trying to make their way up to the front line. Wounded twice, she didn’t let that stop or slow her down.

One soldier, Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbitt recalled the mare’s effect on the troops: “It’s difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain.”

The dedication ceremony last July 26 of a Sgt. Reckless statue att the National Museum for the Marine Corps in Quantico came from writer Robin Hutton's passion for the mare's forgotten heroics.

The dedication ceremony last July 26 of a Sgt. Reckless statue att the National Museum for the Marine Corps in Quantico came from writer Robin Hutton’s passion for the mare’s forgotten heroics.

Courtesy of Robin Hutton

Her popularity soared, and her heroics sparked fame and a post-war trip in 1959 to Camp Pendleton, where she retired as a staff sergeant and eventually was laid to rest nine years later. When Life magazine catalogued its 100 greatest American heroes in a special edition, Sgt. Reckless made the list — alongside the likes of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.

“By the time all said and done, Sgt. Reckless is going to be as famous as the other two best horses, Secretariat and Seabiscuit,” Hutton says. “I think her story is one for the ages.”

The more Hutton has learned about the mare from books, websites and conversations, the more committed she has become — not just to her book, due to publish this fall by Regnery Publishing — but to memorializing the horse. After campaigning for a year, she was thrilled when Breyer released a Sgt. Reckless model horse in Christmas 2012, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Sgt. Reckless Memorial Fund she created to help finance monuments to the mare. Last July 26, as part of a 60th Anniversary celebration of the Korean Armistice Day at the National Marine Museum in Virginia, a striking 10-foot statue of Sgt. Reckless by sculptor Jocelyn Russell was ceremoniously unveiled by Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos.

“It was a great day,” says Hutton, who had never commissioned a monument before let alone guide a national project through fruition. “They just love her there. It’s bringing in people who never otherwise would have come into the museum because they are coming to see the horse. The museum vice president of operations told me,’Robin, every day someone walks through the door and asks ‘Where is that horse?'”

Now that the Quantico project is completed — and paid for — her dream of a second monument at Camp Pendleton is taking root. Hutton has met with base officials and the Camp Pendleton Historical Society, which has embraced the project that she hopes will be installed by Nov. 11. That is the day Sgt. Reckless first landed on American soil, she says. Fund-raising is under way to garner the $125,000 required.

MORE ONLINE: Http://www.sgtreckless.com

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