Sgt. Reckless

The Korean Horse That Gets Everywhere: Sgt. Reckless Awarded UK’s Dickin Medal

Late last Wednesday afternoon I arrived into London’s Liverpool Street Station and noticing that the Evening Standard is now free, picked up a copy as I headed off into the bustle for an exciting evening in the Greatest City on Earth (ok, to eat Marks & Spencer sandwiches and drink cheap wine in an overpriced hotel room in the Greatest City on Earth).


London Evening Standard – July 27th, 2016

On the second bottle glass of Prosecco and having established there is still nothing on British TV, I opened the Standard and was mildly surprised to see on page 8 the familiar black and white picture of the Korean warhorse Sgt. Reckless coming under fire in battle. It turned out that that very morning at the Korean War Memorial in London’s Victoria Embankment Gardens, Sgt. Reckless had been posthumously (she died more than 50 years ago) awarded the Dickin Medal, which is Britain’s highest honour for an animal who has served in conflict – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Her story has been told many times before, including on this site but over the past few years, it’s been told most prominently by American writer Robin Hutton, who set up the website and in 2014 published a book about the horse, which reached the New York Times Bestsellers list for its category. The Dickin Medal sounded like it would have the hand of Hutton behind it so I messaged to inquire: “Yes! I was there” came the answer “HRH Princess Alexandra presented the Dickin to the Marine Corps. attache and then a smaller one for me. It was awesome!”

Awesome is one way to describe Hutton’s dedication to this horse. A few years ago I corresponded with her during the preparation of her book and met her briefly in Seoul earlier this year. Hutton was in Korea with sculptor Jocelyn Russell, with whom she had worked to create a monument to Sgt. Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. in Quantico, Virginia. A similar monument is to be installed in the Korean county of Yeoncheon – site of the Battle for Outpost Vegas and close to the present day DMZ – and the pair had traveled to view the site and participate in a number of other Marine Corps. veterans’ functions across the peninsula and on Jeju Island. They also visited the current Seoul Racecourse – complete with its own Sgt. Reckless tribute – and also the site of the former Sinseol-dong track in downtown Seoul.

The story of Sgt. Reckless is a very American one and as such was barely known in Korea until recently. Hutton’s passion and energy for her cause has begun to change that and “Achimhai” as she was supposedly called in Korean, is gradually seeping into the public consciousness here. While that’s especially true in the small towns near the battlefields where her exploits took place – and where savvy entrepreneurs have naturally been quick to try to cash in – she’s also making more general headway. A children’s book was published (albeit one that bears little relation to the actual story) and the Korea Racing Authority runs an annual “Achimhai Memorial” race on the weekend closest to the anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War. A number of mainstream Korean language news outlets also covered the Quantico memorial unveiling.

The Korean media has picked up on the Dickin Medal award too (Korean) and the Sgt. Reckless story will be sure to get more coverage here when the Yeoncheon memorial is dedicated. The story would, of course, make for a good film and given the current success of domestic Korean War movie “Operation Chromite”, perhaps that is not too far away either.

At the ceremony in London for Sgt. Reckless, the medal itself was worn by Somme, a horse from the King’s Troop mounted artillery. In addition to the London Evening Standard, numerous media covered the award, including the BBCABC News and Horse & Hound.


Weekend Race Times

The YTN Cup at Seoul headlines what is an otherwise quiet week in between Busan’s two biggest events of the year; last week’s Oaks and next week’s Mayor’s Cup.

YTN generally bring their cameras to their race

YTN generally bring their cameras to their race

Sunday’s YTN Cup has attracted eleven runners and is the highlight of a ten-race card. Saturday at Seoul also sees a named race as the course pays tribute to “Korean Warhorse” Sgt. Reckless on the the 65 anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean war.

Full race cards are available here

Here’s what’s happening when and where:

Friday June 26
Busan Racecourse: 10 races from 12:50 to 19:00
Jeju Racecourse: 8 races from 13:15 to 17:05

Saturday June 27
Seoul Racecourse: 12 races from 10:50 to 18:00
Jeju Racecourse: 8 races from 12:20 to 16:40

Sunday June 28
Seoul Racecourse: 10 races from 10:50 to 18:00
Busan Racecourse: 6 races from 12:05 to 17:05

The Korean Racehorse Who Joined the US Marines

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.

A race at Sinseol-dong in the late 1940s

A race at Sinseol-dong in the late 1940s

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.

Sgt Reckless in Korea

Sgt Reckless in Korea

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.

The horse showed bravery in battle

The horse showed bravery in battle

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.

Reckless drinking with Marines

Reckless drinking with Marines

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!

Back at Camp Pendleton, Sgt Reckless was promoted twice

Back at Camp Pendleton, Sgt Reckless was promoted twice

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