Sergeant Reckless

About five miles south of the Fort Worth Stockyards in the Cultural District is a statue that was placed in the Alice Walton Cowgirl Park in 2019. The park is adjacent to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and is named for Walton, a longtime benefactor of the Hall of Fame. One of the newest additions to the area is a statue of a horse bearing a load on its back, carrying it up a hill. This was a statue of the American warhorse named Sergeant Reckless who distinguished herself in the Korean Conflict in the 1950s.

Image credit: Texas Highways Magazine

This amazing animal was the only horse in the United States Marines to bear the designation of Staff Sergeant. Reckless joined the Marines during the Korean Conflict when she was purchased in Korea by Capt. E. T. Pederson at a racetrack in Seoul, Korea. She was intended to be used to carry ammunition for gun crews on the front lines. She won the hearts of her fellow Marines during the battle of “Hill Vegas” as part of the Fifth Marine Regiment of the First Marine Division. The hill was steep and constant enemy fire made it very difficult to resupply the ammunition needed, yet in one day this little sorrel mare made fifty-one trips up and down it. Each trip, she had to climb or descend 1,800 yards under fire. She was smart and self motivated and after a few guided trips, made a number of circuits on her own. That day alone, she is thought to have covered a distance of around thirty-five miles. She continued to serve the Marines in various capacities until the hostilities ended. It was cold many nights and she slept in the Marines’ tents, ate in their mess kitchens and was even known to drink beer.

She was promoted to sergeant by her Division Commander Major General Randolph McPate. At the end of her tour of duty, she could have been left behind as many animals were, but she was so beloved that the First Marine Division Association was allowed to purchase her for one dollar. The next hurdle was to get her to the United States. Through a series of fortunate events, she was smuggled aboard a troop transport and supplied with rations until she arrived in California, ultimately to Fort Pendleton, in 1954.

When Reckless left the ship, she was to have been wearing a specially made blanket that was decorated with her combat ribbons and two purple hearts, but on the trip, she had chewed it up. According to an Associated Press article on November 11, 1954, a brand new red and gold blanket was hastily supplied to replace it. A crowd that welcomed her included Monroe Coleman, a PFC during her Korean service days who had accompanied her on her ammunition supply trips. Coleman was then a brick layer in Utah. Also in the crowd was former Captain Eric Pederson of Vista, California. Pederson was quoted as saying he bought her for $250 (believed to have been paid for with his own funds) and that each trip, she carried a payload equal to one third of her own weight.

Her California arrival made the national news. One United Press article on November 10, 1954 described her exploits as follows: “Sergeant Reckless, a small Korean pony whose gallant war record won her a place in the annals of Marine Corps history, arrives today aboard the Pacific Transport. Sergeant Reckless served with the First Marine during the bitter battle of the Nevada complex. The little mare carried 75-mm ammunition for a recoilless rifle. The Marines dubbed the weapon the “Reckless Rifle” and from that, the mare got her name.” To help place this event in history, next to the article was another one alluding to the “space race” with the Soviets to see which country could excel in achievements in outer space, and it referenced how the Russians had recruited former Nazi scientists after World War II, as the United States had also done.

The weapon itself was the M20 recoilless rifle and saw its early use in World War II as an anti-tank weapon. The barrel was rifled and the gun had an effective range of 400 meters to 3 km, depending on the load of the rounds. Image is in the public domain.

For her wartime service, Sergeant Reckless was awarded ten decorations: two Purple Hearts, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with Star, Navy Unit Citation, National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with three Stars, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation. [1]

The mare stood about 13 hands high and her weight was estimated to be from 700 to 900 pounds. [1] She began her military service in 1952 and officially retired in late 1960. During her time at Camp Pendleton, she gave birth to four foals. Three were colts: Fearless (1957), Dauntless (1959), and Chesty (1964); her last foal was a filly born around 1965–1966. The filly didn’t live long and was not given a name. Reckless lived until 1968 when she fell into a barbed wire fence. She died while being treated for her wounds on May 13, 1968. Her age was estimated to be 19 or 20 years old when she died, and she was buried at Camp Pendleton with full military honors.

Author Robin Hutton has written “Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse” and has been a driving force in gaining national recognition for Reckless. Hutton’s book was on the New York Times Best Seller list in 2014. Including the statue in Fort Worth, at this time there are five other memorials to Reckless: National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Barrington Hills (Illinois) and the World Equestrian Center in Ocala, Florida. [2]

In 2019, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame honored Hutton with the inaugural Sergeant Reckless Award at its November 13 44th Annual induction luncheon and ceremony. On hand were the five Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductees for the year. That day, the park was also dedicated.

[Sources: newspaper articles, unless otherwise noted.]


[1] Hunter, Robin, “Sgt. Reckless: America’s War Horse,” Publisher: Regnery History, 2014.

[2] http://www.sgtreckless.com

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