Sgt. Reckless: She wasn't a horse, she was a Marine!

You gotta love a horse that loves cherry pie???and then drinks a beer to wash it down.

To say that Sgt Reckless was a character is an understatement???but it???s not why I fell in love with her. I fell in love with her because I was in awe of her heroics during the Korean War???her courage, strength, and tenacity under fire at a time when most horses would have bolted in the other direction. But it was especially because of the love that she had for her fellow Marines, and they for her.

Actually, it???s Staff Sergeant Reckless. She is the only animal that I???m aware of to hold an official ranking in the military. Other animals have had honorary rankings bestowed upon them, but they weren???t officially promoted to rank by the branch of military they served. The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen Randolph McPate, pinned the stripes on her blanket himself as 1,700 troops marched in her honor at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in 1959.  She wore her stripes proudly on her blanket until she retired there in 1960.

It was at the Battle for Outpost Vegas in March 1953 when Reckless earned her battle stripes???and the respect and admiration of those that served alongside her. That battle saw some of the fiercest fighting in Marine Corps history at that time???including those at Belleau Wood and Iwo Jima. In one day alone, Reckless made fifty-one trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites, most of the time on her own.  She carried 386 rounds of ammunition on her back (over 9,000 pounds) and walked over 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep mountains, with enemy fire exploding at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. Wounded twice, she never stopped. She even shielded Marines going up to the front line, and at times helped carry the wounded to safety. There???s no telling how many lives she helped save. She was some kinda horse!

She was little, but mighty. She stood just over 13 hands high and around 900 pounds. I like to call her ???Mighty Mare??? because she was there to help save the day???and the backs of the carriers who also hauled the heavy rounds of recoilless rifle ammunition up to the guns.

When I discovered her story, I was shocked that I had never heard of this amazing horse before. This truly is the greatest horse story I had ever read, and, of course, I loved all of the great ones, fact and fiction???Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Smoky the Cowhorse. Reckless was iconic in the fifties and sixties but neglected from the pages of history. That, to me, was a travesty. And that was something I needed to remedy.

The more I learned about her, the more I loved about her???especially her wit and appetite. She slept in the tents of her comrades and ate in the mess tent with them.  She loved bacon and eggs with her morning cup of joe. She shared beers with her fellow Marines, loved chocolate, and drank Coca-Cola.  I can just imagine how her friends felt when she finally landed in America and was guest of honor at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in San Francisco; as she walked into the room, she spied the anniversary cake and was up to her nostrils in it before they pulled her away. After the cake, it was the flower centerpieces!  She almost snatched the hat off of a woman???s head because it had a flower on it!  You just have to love her determination!

Her military decorations include two Purple Hearts, Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with star, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, all of which she wore proudly on her red and gold blanket, along with a French fourragère that the 5th Marines earned in World War I.

LIFE Magazine lists Reckless as one of our all-time greatest heroes. She shares the pages with Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, and John Wayne. There???s a reason for that. She is one of our all-time greatest heroes. Ask any of the Marines that served with her, and they will tell you the same???and most of the time it will be with tear-filled eyes.

In fact, the one thing I???ve come to realize so clearly about Reckless is this: she wasn???t a horse???she was a Marine!

Robin Hutton is the author of the new book Sgt. Reckless: America???s War Horse. Hutton spearheaded efforts to commission a monument honoring Sgt. Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, VA, dedicated last year. A second monument is planned for Camp Pendleton.