Photo Information

U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Reckless prepares to go to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton after serving in the Korean War with the 5th Marine Regiment. Reckless was purchased to help move supplies and ammunition to firing points in the rough terrain of the peninsula during combat operations. During the 140th Kentucky Derby, Reckless sponsored the Eight Belles race in an effort to increase awareness about the Korean War. (Courtesy Photo)

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‘America’s War Horse’ SSgt. Reckless honored, remembered at Triple Crown race

20 May 2014 | Cpl. Nicholas Ranum

More than 60 years ago, in the mountains of the Korean Peninsula, the Marines of the Recoiless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, were in need of a way to transport ammunition to remote firing positions. The mountainous terrain was unsuitable for motorized vehicles and humans could not move ammunition fast enough. The need had to be filled by a four-legged beast of burden. To carry this load, a horse was chosen. That horse, was Staff Sgt. Reckless.

Reckless was recently honored during the Eight Belles race at the Kentucky Derby as part of an ongoing effort by Robin Hutton, founder of the Sgt. Reckless Memorial Foundation, to educate people about horses and the Korean War.

“There is an interesting connection between that race and Reckless,” said Hutton. “Fox Hill Farm, the owners of Eight Belles, who collapsed right before the finish line of the derby some years previous, had bought a horse and named it Sgt. Reckless in honor of Staff Sgt. Reckless. Sadly Sgt. Reckless was injured and was then adopted, but it was nice to know someone else knew about Staff Sgt. Reckless.”

At the end of the race, members of the Fox Hill Farm, Hutton, the statue artist Jocelyn Russel and Maj. Scott E. Stephan , the commanding officer of Recruiting Station Louisville, took part in the Winner’s Circle Ceremony and awarded the trophy to the winning team and horse, 50 Shades of Gold.

“We had the opportunity to present the Winner's Trophy and show a brief movie about Staff Sgt. Reckless on the track's big screen,” said Stephan, a native of Mobile, Ala. “It was a unique experience that allowed us to connect two exemplary organizations, Churchill Downs and the United States Marine Corps.”

The two institutions were connected prior to this by way of retired and former Marines.

“I had the opportunity to trade war stories with several Marines who have served on the Board of Directors for Churchill Downs,” said Stephan. “It was a great event that had good exposure for the Marine Corps and was personally enjoyable.”

The connection between these two worlds can be traced back to the ‘Forgotten War’ and the Marines who fought it.

Staff Sgt. Reckless, or Ah Chim Hai, which means ‘Morning Flame’ in Korean, was purchased by Lt. Eric Pederson for $250 in October of 1952. She was brought from the Seoul race track to the unit’s position and was then trained for her primary duty of moving ammunition, according to the Sgt. Reckless Memorial Fund website.

“Reckless was, to the best of our knowledge, part Jeju Pony,” said Hutton. “Even though she was bred to race and therefore larger than normal, she retained most of that hardiness that breed is known for. That hardiness translated into 250 pounds per load and endurance for multiple trips.”

That hardiness was further augmented with training involving how to avoid barbed wire, lying down while under fire and running to a bunker when she heard “Incoming!”

During her training and subsequent actions during the war, her primary caretakers were Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Latham, Pfc. Monroe Coleman and Petty Officer 1st Class George Mitchell, the corpsman for the unit who provided medical services for Reckless, according to Reckless, Pride of the Marines by Andrew Geer.

“Over time, the Marines of the unit became her herd,” said Hutton. “She was allowed to wander around camp, sleep in tents and eat almost anything. She had a reputation for eating and drinking anything lying unattended to include eggs, bacon, toast, Coca-Cola and horse blankets. It was amazing that she never became sick.”

While known for her exploits around the unit’s camp, she is more famous for her battlefield heroics, with her baptism by fire near the villages of Changdan and Kwakchan. She was initially frightened by the firing of the 75mm recoilless rifles; however by the end of that mission she was seen to be calm and nonchalant about what was going on around her, according to the site.

“She was a very intelligent animal,” Hutton explained. “She would only need one or two times to learn a task and then she could be left to her own devices to do what needed to be done. Her intelligence was proven in the subsequent battles that she participated in.” 

Reckless’ intelligence was best demonstrated in perhaps her most famous battle, the Battle of Panmunjom-Vegas.

This battle lasted 3 days and the savagery of the battle was described as having no equal in Marine Corps history at the time. Throughout this savage bombardment, Reckless made her way through a no-man’s land of rice paddies, craters and deadly projectiles, while under the eye of the enemy, and she then climbed a 45 degree hill to bring the much needed ammunition to her fellow Marines, according to the SRMF website.

The website quotes Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbit as he describes the sensation when the Marines saw Reckless with their ammunition.

“It is difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain,” he said.

During one day of the battle, Reckless made 51 solo trips carrying a total of 386 rounds of 75mm ammunition for the recoilless rifles. That equated out to more than 9,000 pounds. Each trip was made with between four and eight shells and all together totaled more than 35 miles through a cratered land of death. On the return trips, she would take wounded Marines down to the rear areas for medical treatment, according to the website.

Over the course of the three-day battle she was wounded twice while performing her transport runs and also provided cover for Marines to get to the front lines to engage the enemy.

For her actions during the battle she was promoted to sergeant and would later be awarded two purple hearts for the wounds she received during battle.

Her next major achievement came when 5th Marines was moving from Camp Casey to Inchon. In this she was the first horse to participate in an amphibious landing, according to an article by Sgt. Dennis Litalien in Marines Magazine. 

Reckless continued to serve in Korea until 1954, when an article in a newspaper brought out her supporters, and they requested that the Marines bring her to the U.S. She left South Korea aboard a 1st Marine Aircraft Wing transport plane and was then transferred to a ship in the port of Yokohama, Japan on Oct. 22. The original plan was to have Reckless arrive on Nov. 5 but due to a typhoon, Reckless was delayed until the evening of Nov. 9 and did not put a hoof on American soil until the morning of Nov. 10.

Throughout her years in the U.S., she took part in many guest appearances on television shows and other events. She also gave birth to four foals: Fearless, Dauntless, Chesty and an unnamed fourth that died within a month after birth.

After many years of dedicated service to the Corps, Reckless was retired with full military honors and kept at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton until her death in 1968. At the time of her death she was estimated to be between 19 and 20 years of age with many of those years spent keeping Marines supplied during the Korean War.

In 2006 Hutton was reading Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul and came across a story about one of Reckless’ foals. In that story there were two paragraphs about the exploits of Reckless during Korean War.

“When I first started searching there were only four things on the internet pertaining to Reckless,” said Hutton. “Over the years I made it my mission to learn about Reckless and eventually have other people learn about her. Along with research I also started a small website dedicated to that wonderful horse.”

Between 2006 and 2009 Hutton decided to up the ante and write a screenplay and a book.

“In 2009 I had a finished screenplay ready to be looked at but near the same time Steven Spielberg announced War Horse,” said Hutton. “With that revelation I put the screenplay on the back burner and started work on my book about Reckless in earnest. While working on the book, I also started thinking about getting a monument built for Reckless.”

The first monument was erected in 2013 and was placed on the grounds of the National Museum of the Marine Corps one day before the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. The statue depicts Reckless carrying ammunition and other supplies up a slope to her Marines. A similar statue is planned for Camp Pendleton.

“She was a wonderful horse,” said Hutton. “To me she represents all those that, due to time or other reasons, were lost or forgotten to the history books. If I can use her as a symbol to get people to learn about the Korean War and that in turns opens up discussions about what else might be forgotten, then that is a victory.”

To secure that victory involved interviews and many hours spent tracking down documents lost to a labyrinth of paper and time.

“For the book I interviewed approximately 75 individuals ranging from children that played with Reckless during her years at Camp Pendleton to her handlers and fellow Marines of the Korean War,” said Hutton.

Even with statues, a book, interviews and a memorial the interest in Reckless was not enough for the determined Moorpark, Calif. native.

“Not too long ago we were trying to think of other ways to get people interested in Reckless and were interested in getting the Del Mar race track to have Reckless sponsor a race,” said Hutton. “One day while we were thinking, one of us had the idea of going to the Kentucky Derby.”

The Kentucky Derby is one of America’s Triple Crown, with the other two being the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

“One of our donors for the statue at the National Museum of the Marine Corps was a Thoroughbred breeder and knew the CEO of Churchill Downs,” said Hutton. “The CEO, Bob Evans, had not heard the story of Reckless and once he had, he was excited about our idea.”

A day of racing and merriment connected two different worlds not normally associated with one another.

“I felt very blessed to be a part of that ceremony and to learn about Reckless,” said Hutton. “It was the experience of a lifetime.”

For more information about Reckless visit

4th Marine Corps District