Horses with Heart – Sergeant Reckless

Reckless with her main caretaker, US Marine Sergeant Joseph Latham.


She was truly a gift of love – her life exchanged for a limb. His sister had stepped on a land mine and $250 meant that Kim Huk Moon could buy her a leg prosthesis. It was the Korean war. But to do so, he had to let his filly go… He cried.

Purchased as a pack horse on October 26, 1952, the little filly was originally named Ah Chim Hai. The translation in Korean is “Morning Flame” or “Flame of the Morning.” Moon called her Flame. She was thought to be of Mongolian blood, but she did have some Thoroughbred similarities. She weighed less than 900 pounds and stood only 56 inches or 14 hands high.

As a pack-horse, she would learn to carry 24 pound shells for recoilless rifles used by the Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marine Regiment of the Anti-Tank Company, 1st Marine Division. Her name, Flame, was modified to reflect a contraction of the name Recoilless – and she became known to the Marines as “Reckless” – quickly becoming part of the unit and creeping into their tents, their hearts – and their meals – eating everything from scrambled eggs to potato chips and drinking Coca-Cola and beer with the best of them. At one point, she consumed about $30 in poker chips! Not your usual equine fare.

Reckless was taught to be a Marine. She was trained in battlefield survival skills; she would lie down under fire. She knew not to become entangled in barbed wire. On hearing the cry “Incoming!”, she learned to run for a bunker – and even appeared to take interest in the operation of the rifles she was carrying. She learned to deliver the guns and shells to the front lines, and when learning a new route, required to be led only a few times before she learned the route on her own. There was a standing order not to ride her, but on one occasion that order was violated and Reckless sprinted through a minefield with her mount, surviving in spite of her rider.

During the Battle of Outpost Vegas on Vegas Hill in March of 1953, she made 51 solo trips in one day, covering over 35 miles and carrying over 9,000 pounds of ammunition – rider-less, no lead, under fire. She travelled through rice paddies and steep mountain ridges, carrying her load; sometimes guns, sometimes ammunition, even the wounded. They would tie them on, send them back down, and at the bottom, they would turn her around, slap her rump and she would head out again.

The whole battle lasted 3 days. She was wounded twice. At the end of the battle her fellow Marines were so grateful for her service, they offered her a beer, which she drank down lustily, like a true soldier, and begged for more.

Sergeant Reckless beside 75 mm recoilless rifle, circa 1952 – 1955, Andrew Geer, Public Domain.

On one occasion, Reckless approached a group of Marines, and nuzzled one unsuspecting marine on the back of the neck, nipping him in the process. He jumped and started screaming obscenities at her yelling at a Marine Lieutenant to remove the nag from his presence. The Lieutenant blasted the marine, “That horse has done more for the United States Marine Corps than you have, or ever will do. And besides, she outranks you. If I ever hear you talking to that horse like that again, I’m going to have you written up and court-martialed.” 1 Sgt. Reckless, America’s War Horse by Robin Hutton

Her role didn’t end on the front lines. She packed telephone lines for her platoon – stringing as much wire on her own, as 12 men on foot. She was the first horse in the Marine Corps to have engaged in an amphibious landing.

Her platoon played on her “Reckless” reputation, challenging Kentucky Derby contender, Native Dancer, to a “Paddy Derby” on the “Upsan Downs,” over a 1.5 mile course of rice paddies and hills, carrying 192 pounds of ammunition and no riders. Their challenge went unrequited, although Native Dancer would come in second in the Kentucky Derby, thereafter winning the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, and the Belmont Stakes in New York. All in good fun, Sergeant Reckless won her own red and gold blanket with insignia, and was promoted again to staff sergeant (E-6) on August 31, 1959 at Camp Pendleton, California, where she was honored with a twenty-one-gun salute and a 1,700-man parade of Marines.

Reckless was a hero. She was awarded two purple hearts, and the battle of Outpost Vegas prompted a promotion to the official rank of Sergeant for the only animal, before or since, in history.

Sergeant Reckless was retired from active service with full military honors in 1960. Her Marine Corps documents provided her with free room and board in lieu of retirement pay. She was treated like the VIP she was, well cared for and respected. She bore two colts and two fillies, at Camp Pendleton, the last of which survived only a month.

Eight years after her retirement, Reckless would injure herself, ironically by falling into a barbed wire fence. She died under sedation for treatment at approximately 19 or 20-years-old.

As we approach the Anniversary of Remembrance on November 11th, we salute our war heroes, and war horses, with honor and respect for the service they have offered in the protection of our countries, our front lines, and our troops.

Sergeant Reckless is honored with a statue by sculptor Jocelyn Russell in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, a memorial at Camp Pendleton, as well as a monument at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.


7 thoughts on “Horses with Heart – Sergeant Reckless”

  1. Thanks for this. Most people call Reckless a ‘he’ and I’ve always gotten on people for that. I did not know that she was not an American horse tho.

  2. Toni Burgess

    Reckless had 3 colts and a filly, not 2 and 2. The colts names were, Fearless, Dauntless, and Chesty, after Marine General Louis (Chesty) Puller.

  3. I what a wonderful tribute to a very special horse! I salute all military today on Veterans’ Day including Reckless!

  4. Sgt. Stubby, a pit bull type dog, also earned the rank of Sargent during WWI

    The military now classifies all military working dogs as non-commissioned officers and they always outrank their handlers.

  5. David Morris

    Thanks for this story…Now I can tell Liberals that metals were given to horses and not just dogs!
    Semper Fi SS Reckless

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