Sgt. Reckless: An unlikely hero

The following is excerpted from Sgt. Reckless: America???s War Horse by Robin Hutton, available on Amazon

At one point, on the way back to the ASP, Technical Sergeant Joe Latham found a protected area, pulled off Reckless???s packsaddle, and gave her food and water. As she ate, Latham gave her a thorough rubdown, paying special attention to her legs and hooves. After a thirty-minute rest, he strapped the pack- saddle on her back, and she returned to the fight without a fuss. Reckless continued the heroic eight-round ammo deliveries all day, seemingly undaunted by the deafening noise and blinding smoke of battle. ???The roar and crack of the 90 mm tank rounds hammering Reno and Vegas was numbing,??? recalled Marine demolitionist Sgt. Harold Wadley. ???The rush of air that our 4.5-inch rocket ripples made passing overhead sounded like wild birds of vengeance. . . . I looked through the flickering light at the hillside beyond and could hardly believe my eyes. In all that intense fire, in the middle of that chaos, the image of that small, struggling horse???putting everything she had into it, struggling up that ridge loaded with 75 mm rounds . . . ???it was unbelievable.???

Sometimes Reckless made the trip with Private First Class Monroe Coleman, sometimes with other Marines, but she was so intuitive that most of the time she went solo; they would just load her up and send her on her way, knowing she???d make it on her own. ???How in the world she managed to climb that slope,??? Wadley continued, ???with all the incoming turning the earth to powder all around her, is beyond me.

???I was raised on horseback, working cattle and horses in Oklahoma, and know that the best of our horses could not, or would not, attempt to do what this little mare was doing. And by herself! I thought surely there was a Marine leading her, but in the flare light all I could see was her alone. She struggled along with her head and neck stretched out to help balance her load of 75 mm rounds like she knew where she was going. Indeed she knew.???

Wadley also recalled seeing Reckless carry wounded soldiers off the battlefield. ???They would tie a wounded Marine across her pack- saddle and she would carry them out of there with all of this artillery and mortars coming in. The guys down at the bottom would unload the wounded off of her and tie gun ammo on her and she would turn around right on her own and head right back up to the guns. She was always moving and unforgettable on that skyline in the flare light.??? On one trip, Reckless shielded four Marines heading for the front line. They returned the favor, throwing their flak jackets over her for protection, thus risking their own lives. Reckless sometimes looked like a, ???prehistoric hump-backed monster covered with large scales,??? wearing flak jackets head to tail, but the Marines valued her that much.


On April 10, 1954, Reckless was officially promoted to sergeant ??? an honor never bestowed, before or since, on an animal.

There have been animals, especially dogs, which surpassed their roles as military mascots and were recognized with awards and even medals. For example, in World War II, an Army German shepherd named Chips attacked an enemy pillbox in Sicily and took four startled prisoners. Chips was awarded a Silver Star and Purple Heart for valor. (The medals later were revoked following complaints that presenting service medals to a dog diminished their prestige.)

In World War I, a pit bull mix named Sergeant Stubby served with the 102nd Infantry, 26th (Yankee) Division, in France. Stubby was on solo patrol in the Argonne when he heard something in the bushes and found a German spy mapping American positions.

Stubby charged, the spy ran, Stubby gave chase, tackled his prey and bit him in the leg. When the patrol followed Stubby???s barking and a man???s cries, they found the German on the ground, Stubby???s steely jaws clamped emphatically onto his rear end.

The commanding officer of the 102nd reportedly was so impressed that he ???promoted??? Stubby to sergeant. But it was an honorary promotion, not an official one.

But honorary Sergeant Stubby wasn???t actual Sgt. Reckless, who was held in the same high esteem as any human Marine of the same rank.

No other animal has ever held any legal, officially sanctioned US military rank and been genuinely respected for that rank, except for Reckless.

Reckless would survive the war and come back to the United States a hero. At Camp Pendleton, she was promoted again, to staff sergeant, by the commandant of the Marine Corps. She bore three colts, one of which was promoted to private first class. She died on May 13, 1968, at the ripe age of 20. A statue of her stands at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va.

Her proudest day was the day they promoted her, Corpsman Doc Rogers recalled. ???They broke us all out in formation,??? Rogers said, ???and they had Reckless there. And they had her corporal blanket on ??? had corporal stripes on the side of it, had all of her ribbons on there ??? and they promoted her to sergeant.

???They took the old blanket off and put the new blanket on her that had the sergeant stripes on there. And, of course, the same ribbons. It was the most beautiful horse blanket I ever saw.

???But, you know, I think back on that and I think she just acted like she knew everything that was going on. She just stood still. They read off everything and it was almost like she was just a part of it. She knew what was happening. She was a proud Marine.???