Since I started writing this blog a few years ago, there has been one particular horse that I’ve received more correspondence about than any other. Receiving more just before the Lunar New Year holiday, I thought it about time I write about her.
It’s not J.S.Hold or Feel So Good, nor even Smarty Moonhak with his sire Smarty Jones’ legion of followers. In fact, she wasn’t even famous for her exploits on the track. It is, however, back at the old Sinseol-dong Racecourse where her story begins.
It was 1952 and the Korean War had been raging for over two years. Although the northern invaders had been expelled from Seoul, the track, in the Dongdaemun area of the city had long since stopped hosting racing. The horses were mainly gone – killed in the fighting or taken by the invading force – and the safe had been looted. Among other things, the track was now being used as a landing strip for US aircraft.
With nowhere else to go, however, some of the racing fraternity had returned, some of them with horses. Korean racing didn’t use thoroughbreds until the 1970’s and the majority of runners at the Sinseol-dong track had been ponies; some Mongolian and some from Jeju Island, and almost all had been fillies or mares. One of the most successful runners of the 1940’s was reportedly a mare named Achimhai or “Morning Flame.”
Although Achimhai most likely perished at the start of the war, she was survived by a daughter and it was this filly who was at Sinseol-dong and was bought by US Marine Lt. Eric Pedersen for the rather princely sum of $250 from her owner, a Korean teenager by the name of Kim Huk Moon (not his real name). As the legend goes, Kim needed the money to support his sister, Kim Chung Soon, who had lost her leg stepping on a land mine.
Lt. Pedersen bought her for a reason and the filly was put to work. Her task was to carry ammunition to the frontline for the 75mm Recoilless Rifle (anti-tank) Platoon of the 5th Marine Corp. From the time she was bought until the end of the war, “Reckless,” as the US soldiers called her – after the weapon they used – carried out this task with distinction, remaining calm when the platoon’s gun was fired while all other animals were spooked.
Her finest hour was in the 5-day battle known as “Outpost Vegas” during which she made 51 trips from the ammunition supply point to the firing sites. Almost always travelling alone, she carried a total of almost 5 tons of ammunition a total of 35 miles in the open and under enemy fire. She was wounded twice but continued in her task. More often than not, on the return journey from the front, she would carry wounded soldiers and thus was responsible for saving a number of American lives.
After the battle the US Marine Corp. made the horse the first ever animal to hold an official rank in any military service as she became a Sergeant. Reckless was well taken of by the Marines and became something of a mascot – albeit one well-versed in combat. Guzzling beer and Coca-Cola, Reckless essentially became one of the boys.
After becoming the subject of an article in the Saturday Evening Post which made her famous back home in the States, a campaign was launched to bring Reckless to the USA. With the Korean War over in 1953 – ending in the armistice, not a peace treaty, along the original 38th parallel that lasts until this day, the Marine Corp. duly obliged.
In total, Sgt. Reckless was awarded two purple-hearts, a Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with star, the National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation, and a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
Sgt. Reckless was brought to Camp Pendleton in California where, after giving birth four times and being promoted twice – the second time by the Commandant of the US Marine Corp, to the rank of Staff Sergeant – she died in 1968 aged 19 and was buried at the base. Outranking the soldier who cared for her, she always caused a problem on official occasions as he wasn’t allowed to walk in front of her!
Later this year, Sgt. Reckless will be honoured with a memorial which will be unveiled at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico on July 26. She has a website here and a Facebook group here both of which have lots more information about her life and the memorial. A Youtube video has received nearly 1.4 Million views.
Interestingly, in the UK, a horse named Sgt. Reckless can be backed at 33/1 for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival next month. Get on it!
* While the early parts of her story remain hazy due to a lack of Korean sources, what happened after she was bought at Sinseol-dong is not in doubt. The story was first noticed in Korea in 2006 with an article in the Korea Racing Authority’s in-house newsletter and has since been covered here by a number of major media outlets. However, none of them add anything to the American sources they – and indeed this article – are based upon. All pictures above, with the exception of the one of Sinseol-dong Racecourse, are from http://www.sgtreckless.com