Sergeant Reckless was a slightly different Marine, but she retired as a Marine staff sergeant and is one of the most-colorful and beloved Marines of all time. She liked to have a beer or two with the guys and she had a voracious appetite, but never gained weight. She saw combat during numerous engagements in Korea, before anyone considered using females in combat. She participated in an amphibious landing, received a Purple Heart with a star, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal and others. She was a small, cute redhead, with a winning personality, and she was known for always wearing white stockings in combat; although, she wasn’t really considered a lady.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps promoted her to staff sergeant in 1959. A plaque and photo were dedicated to her honor at Camp Pendleton and a statue of her was erected at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia.
She is most fondly remembered delivering supplies and ammunition to forward recoilless positions and carrying out wounded on her return trips. During the Battle of Panmunjon-Vegas (also called the Battle of Outpost Vegas, she made 51 solo trips in a single day. She carried a total of 386 recoilless rounds (over 9,000 pounds) carrying 4 to 8 rounds per trip and covering over 35 miles in one day. (From a former packer who knows, this is a Hell of a load for a horse.) Marines used her as cover and as a guide when they were sent to reenforce the front lines. The battle lasted for three days. She was hit by shrapnel over her left eye and on her left hip. After the battle, she received a meritorious promotion to corporal.
The Commander of the 1st Marine Division promoted Reckless to sergeant when the war was over in a formal ceremony on April 10, 1954. She was honored with a 19-gun salute and a parade of 1,700 Marines from her wartime unit. She was given a red and gold blanket with her name, rank, and campaign ribbons: two Purple Hearts, Good Conduct Ribbon, Presidential Citation with star, United Nations Service Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation all of which she wore on her red and gold blanket.
“I was surprised at her beauty and intelligence, and believe it or not, her esprit de corps. Like any other Marine, she was enjoying a bottle of beer with her comrades. She was constantly the center of attraction and was fully aware of her importance. If she failed to receive the attention she felt her due, she would deliberately walk into a group of Marines and, in effect, enter the conversation. It was obvious the Marines loved her.”
—Lieutenant General Randol
Staff Sergeant Reckless was a horse, a real warhorse and a real Marine. She came by her name honestly; since she was considered as reckless as the men who fired the recoilless rifles they called reckless. She was purchased in Korea from a man who cried when he sold her, but his sister needed an artificial leg after losing her leg to a landmine. She cost $250 and it was probably the best money the Marine Corps ever spent. Actually a Lt. Pederson purchased her with his own money and had his wife mail a packsaddle and rigging. Several horsemen conducted a ‘hoof camp’ and taught Reckless the basics of staying alive in combat. She was trained to run for a bunker when she heard the frightful word, “Incoming,” She learned to avoid becoming caught in barb wire, and was trained to lie down when she was under fire. She was also taught to approach the recoilless rifles from the flank to avoid the killing zones in front and behind the barrels.
She had a good rapport with the men, wandering into their tents freely, with the men moving their sleeping bags to make room for her to stretch out on the ground and she preferred sleeping next to a stove on cold nights. She had an unbelievable appetite and was famous for eating bacon, scrambled eggs, buttered toast, chocolate bars, peanut butter sandwiches, and mashed potatoes. She loved beer and whiskey.
She almost got into trouble when she ate $30 worth of poker chip winnings, off the table before she could be stopped, but she could eat helmet liners and blankets as well; some girls just got to eat. However, the law was passed down from the Navy corpsman, she was not to have over two cokes a day, beer was okay..
It isn’t easy to train a horse to stay calm when big sporting rifles are fired, but Sergeant Reckless’ baptism under fire came at Hedy’s Crotch, close to Changdan and Kwakchan. The recoilless rifle fired a 75-mm round for several thousand yards with accuracy. The rounds weighed 24 pounds apiece and a marine ammunition carrier was expected to carry three to four rounds. Lieutenant Pedersen had experience with horses and realized the advantages of a pack horse for carrying the rounds for the recoilless rifle.
The first time she heard the recoilless rifle, she was loaded with six recoilless rounds when the recoilless rifle fired. Like most horses exposed to extremely loud sounds, all four feet came off the ground in stark terror, but her handler calmed her down and she only snorted when the second round fired. At the end of the day, she was eating a discarded helmet liner while the recoilless rifles were firing. In emergency situations, Reckless was asked to carry 8 and 10 rounds a trip, an unbelievable load for a 14 hand horse or any horse, but Reckless shouldered her loads without complaint.
When she was assigned a new pack route, she only needed someone to lead her a few times to learn the route and from then on she could handle her dangerous missions all-alone.
One of her other jobs was stringing communication wires. The spools were attached to her pack saddle and allowed to free wheel as she walked along. They estimated that she could do the work of 12 men stringing wire.
Sergeant Reckless retired at Camp Pendleton on November 10, 1960, with full military honors and was provided feed and stabling in lieu of retirement pay. She was euthanized on May 13, 1968 and is still a hero and an inspiration to marines and civilians. Long Live Sergeant Reckless and Long Live the Corps.
Happy Birthday Marines.
A professional horseman for over 50 years, Skook continues to work with horses. Skook has finished an historical novel, Fifty Thousand Years, that traces a mitochondrial line of DNA from 50,000 years ago to the present. The story follows a line of courageous women, from the Ice Ages to the present, as they meet the challenges of survival with grit and creativity. These are not women who whimper of being victims, they meet the challenges of survival as women who use their abilities without excuses or remorse, these women are winners, they are our ancestors.