A Korean War vet remembers a Mongolian mare who won two Purple Hearts and earned the rank of staff sergeant for carrying ammunition in battle.
NEW YORK — War is hell, but there is one aspect of the Korean War that John T. Meyers, a retired Marine Corps sergeant who lives in Upper Manhattan, remembers fondly every Veterans Day.
The memory is about one of his best war buddies — a popular sergeant who was decorated for battleground bravery. On Friday morning, Meyer pulled out a well-worn photograph he brought back from Korea of the sergeant grazing in a field.
“She was a heck of a work horse — she could carry 12 rounds of ammo,” he said. “She was a dependable, beautiful animal and she was sociable.”
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Meyers was speaking of Sgt. Reckless, a Mongolian mare who won two Purple Hearts and earned the rank of staff sergeant for carrying ammunition in battle. Meyers was close to the horse, both on the battlefield, where he was a gunner, and also in the mess tent, where he often worked as a cook with the Fifth Marine Regiment Anti-Tank Company.
“I would feed her, so every time she’d see me, she’d trot over,” said Meyers, a retired shipping clerk. “I gave her an apple a day. She knew exactly where I slept and she’d come in the tent and lick my face to wake me up, so she could eat.”
Meyers recalled Reckless carrying heavy rounds for the powerful anti-tank guns the unit used, known as recoilless rifles.
“That gun had a heck of a blast, but it wouldn’t bother Reckless,” he said. “Any animals in the area would take off, but that horse would stay calm.”
Veterans Day is always a special day for Meyers because it is the day after his birthday. On Saturday he turned 79, which is also the 237th anniversary of the Marine Corps itself. It also happens to be the 58th anniversary of the day that Reckless touched U.S. soil after serving in Korea.
She became well-known in the 1950s as America’s greatest equine war hero, the subject of an article in The Saturday Evening Post that was published while she was still in Korea. It helped ignite a public outcry to get the Marine Corps to bring her to the United States.
“In the 1950s, Reckless was as popular as Rin Tin Tin and Lassie,” said Robin Hutton, an author from Ventura, Calif., who is writing a book on Reckless.
In 1955, the horse appeared on TV with Art Linkletter and made many other public appearances after the war, Hutton said. Plans to bring her to New York City for an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” were scuttled by a storm, and a planned film fell through, she said. Reckless soon drifted into obscurity.
Hutton helped gain support for a memorial to Reckless that is scheduled to open in July at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., near the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va. It will include a statue in Semper Fidelis Memorial Park next to the museum and an exhibition of items, including one of Reckless’ horseshoes and photographs.
Meyers said his unit fell in love with the horse, whom they treated “like one of the fellows.”
“You had guys feeding her everything — beer, soda,” he said.
Reckless’ biography is not entirely complete. The story goes that a Marine purchasing officer bought the horse from a Korean boy who needed money to buy his sister an artificial leg, according to a 1955 book, “Reckless: Pride of the Marines,” by Marine Lt. Col. Andrew Geer, a Marine commander who served with Reckless and wrote articles about her for The Saturday Evening Post in the 1950s.
Reckless is the only animal to ever hold an official rank in any military service, Hutton said.
Her two Purple Heart medals and a multitude of others were pinned to the scarlet and gold blanket she wore at appearances.
She was retired on Nov. 10, 1960, with full military honors. She lived at the stables at Camp Pendleton in California and died in 1968 at age 20.