Grandma Pat Letters: Cat Warfare….Sergeant Reckless A Great United States Marine

Sgt. Reckless

Dear Grandson,

Well it is wet, rainy and cold outside.  The dogs have already been digging in the black mud in what is left of our garden and now my kitchen floor has as dirty path across it that could rival the Oregon Trail.

The Oregon Trail is the path that tens of thousands of pioneers used to cross our country to settle in the west. The exodus of white settlers from the east coast to populate the west coast resulted in many wars with Native Americans. If I was a Native American, I would have defended my people and land, too, but that is a story for another day.

Normally, when I think about the Oregon Trail, I cannot help but marvel at how many tons of people, merchandise and hardware was pulled or packed over muddy roads, dry deserts and high mountains by horses. The taming of the horse was real gain for humans…for humans at peace and those at war.

During the Korean War, the war where Great Uncle Wendall was killed, there was a famous pack horse named Sergeant Reckless.  While being reckless is not something this or any other grandmother would ever endorse. This horse was an only exception to that rule, because she protected her boys.

This mare was purchased by a Marine, from the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, on October 1952 for $250. He purchased her in Seoul, Korea, from a race track stable boy.  The boy needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister who had stepped on a landmine.

At the time of her purchase, the mare was about three to four years old, was small, about 56 inches tall (14 hands) and weighed only 900 pounds. She was a reddish-brown color called chestnut. That’s right she was a ginger.

The Marines named the mare, “Reckless” and allowed her to roam wherever she wanted throughout their camp.  She slept in the tents with the soldiers and would eat almost anything.  Her diet consisted of scrambled eggs, Coke, beer, bacon, mashed potatoes, shredded wheat, peanut butter sandwiches, chocolate bars, hard candy, buttered toast, her blankets and approximately $30 worth of poker chips. Her handler did restrict her Coke consumption never more than two day.  A good rule of thumb for us all.

Sgt. Reckless  in the tent with her boys. 

The mare was purchased to be a work horse, not a horse for recreation. There was always an officer’s order in place saying that the mare was never to be ridden.  In a war zone filled with buried landmines that was just a good use of some old-fashioned common sense.

Besides filling the mare up with junk food, the Marines taught the mare battlefield survival skills.  The person who trained Reckless, for her work carrying ammunition over mountainous terrain under enemy gun fire, was Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Latham.  Private First Class Monroe Coleman was the horse’s caretaker.  These men trained the mare to not become tangled in barbed wire, to lie down and duck when being shot at and to run for a bunker when she heard the shout, “Incoming!”  Lieutenant Eric Pedersen who had paid for Reckless with his own money had his wife, in California, send him a pack saddle for the horse to use.

Reckless was very smart and even though the locations of each of her missions changed with each new battle, this horse quickly learned each new supply route after only a couple of trips.  She often delivered her supplies to the troops on her own without any human helping her.

Reckless’ war service career lasted for only about nine-months, but she took part in many battles. She carried supplies and ammunition to soldiers on the front line and hauled many wounded soldiers away from the front line to aid stations for medical help.

Sgt. Reckless under enemy fire. 

Reckless’ first time under fire, even though she was carrying six recoilless rifle shells, made her jumped straight up into the air.  All four of her feet left the ground! When she landed, she just stood and shook like a civilian.  Her handler, Coleman, calmed her down and the second time the gun was fired she just snorted.  By the end of the day, Reckless was totally calm and was seen trying to check out how the big gun worked and eventually settled on trying to eat a discarded helmet liner.  Reckless was had become fearless of gunfire.

Sgt. Reckless on a mission.

Her most challenging days came in late March of 1953 during the battle for Outpost Vegas.  In one day, this mare made 51 solo trips to the front lines, through enemy fire to resupply her Marines. The little mare carried a total of 386 recoilless rounds of ammunition weighing over 9,000 pounds over a total distance of 35 miles. On each trip she carried from four to eight, 24 pound shells. She was wounded twice during that battle.  Reckless was hit by shrapnel in her head just above her left eye and another time on the left side of her body.  Anyone that has ever owned a horse knows how horrible scared they get from any bloody head wound…not this mare. Even wounded, she continued to do her duty and made sure her guys had the ammunition they needed.

Reckless’ dedication to her Marines during that battle was recognized when she was given the battlefield rank of corporal. She was one of the first animals to hold an official military rank in the United State Military.  She had a few other firsts, too.  Reckless was the first Marine Corps horse to participate in an amphibious landing, to be awarded two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, A Korean Service Medal, The United Nations Korea Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation, A Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation and a French Fourragere.

Sgt. Reckless’ promotion ceremony 

Several months after the war had ended Reckless received her promotion to sergeant. The promotion ceremony was personally presided over by the Commandant of the Marine Corps himself.  He was like the top guy. This little mare was honored with a 19-gun salute and a 1,700 man parade of Marines from her regiment, and she received a red and gold blanket with the Marine insignia.

Reckless was retired after the war and brought back to the United States.  On November, 10, 1954 this military hero was led onto American soil for the first time by Lieutenant Pedersen.  November 10, also just happens to be the birthday of the Marine Corps and like any good Marine, Reckless went to the party.  She attended the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, rode in an elevator and greatly enjoyed her piece of birthday cake and the party’s floral decorations.

Her retirement was spent at Camp Pendleton where she eventually gave birth to 4 foals. Her surviving foals were named Fearless, Dauntless and Chesty. Chesty was named after Lieutenant General Chesty Puller…the marine with the most medals of all time. He was also one of the very few Marines that ever rode Reckless.

Statue honoring Sgt. Reckless

Now I bet you are wondering where the cats are in this Cat Warfare letter. Well, there aren’t any, because whenever and where ever the United States Marines show up, cats become scaredy cats and they all run away.  No bragging, just fact.

So, moral of this letter is that respect should always be given to those who have earned it….Veterans and horses alike.   Veterans for their service and sacrifice to our country and horses, because quite frankly they are huge and can knock your block off with one kick.

With the presidential election coming up so quick, you must be seeing on television and hearing at school a lot of stuff about the candidates.  Most of it bad. This next week, I want you to remember that we are a very strong country.  Elections have been held during far worse times in our country and resulted in our Constitution and nation growing stronger.

Politics is just like when your dad and aunt used to quarrel.  They really could go at it,. Both convinced that only their idea was right.  Oh….they could get so mad at each other, but God help anyone from outside our family that picked on either of them, because they would quickly unite and protect each other.

The first rule of thumb in politics and war is panic never helps. The second is that those who show up rule. It is not the strength of political parties or even our military that keep us free, it is the strength of the ballot.  My darling boy, always vote.  It is your civic duty and the best way to honor our nation’s veterans who serve and have sacrificed their lives, like your Uncle Wendall, so that we are free to choose the leaders of our government.

Say hi to your parents from grandpa and me.  Sending lots of love and hugs.

Have a very safe and happy Halloween!


Grandma Pat


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