On Saturday, July 22, HITS Chicago will present a day-long celebration at Balmoral Park to honor the life of Sgt. Reckless, a Mongolian mare who served in the Korean War.   

Reckless was bred to be a racehorse. When she was born in June 1948 at Seoul’s Sinseol-Dong Racetrack, she came into this world dressed in a fiery red coat, adorned with three white stockings, and brilliant white blaze. Her breeder, who was also a jockey, named her Ah-Chim-Hai (Flame-of-the-Morning), in honor of her dam, a mare whom he rode to many victories.

As a two-year-old, it became apparent that ‘Flame’ had a special native intelligence, and a curiosity that made her almost human. Orphaned as a foal at the vulnerable age of one week, Flame did not grow very tall or large. She stood at only 13-hands high, but her talent and spirit far exceeded her diminutive frame.

As Flame developed in training, she demonstrated a precociousness well beyond her years, and high aspirations mounted in anticipation of her first race. As her debut drew near, so did North Korea’s disapproval of South Korea—which culminated in an invasion on June 25, 1950. The tragedy of war brought a swift halt to horse racing in Seoul. For the next two years, Flame’s speed, agility, and confidence was tethered to a cart. At the will of her breeder, she assisted him in gathering refugees, and burying casualties amid the ruins of their devastated country. 

By October of 1952, Flame’s young Korean breeder was forced to sell her. His sister had lost a leg in the war, and his beloved Flame was the only remaining family asset. Lieutenant Eric Pedersen, the Commanding Officer of the US Marine Corps Recoilless Rifle Platoon (RRP), Anti-Tank Company, Fifth Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, purchased Flame for $250.

The Recoilless Rifle was an extremely cumbersome anti-tank weapon introduced in World War II.  It took the strength of three or four men to maneuver the heavy artillery. Each round of ammunition for the Recoilless Rifle weighed 24 pounds. Given the long-distances and rugged terrain that the ammunition carriers had to traverse, Lt. Pedersen recognized the value of a horse to help his troops in the field.

When Flame arrived at her home, a camp near Changdan, members of the RRP gathered to meet the new recruit. According to Flame’s biographer, Robin Hutton, her new name emerged that night. “‘Reckless! Let’s call her Reckless!' a voice cried out from the crowd of Marines gathered around their newest recruit. The name might have seemed ill-suited for a small, chestnut-colored horse with a blaze down her forehead and three white stockings. But to the Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marines, the moniker was perfect—it was their radio call sign and captured the toss-caution-to-the-wind attitude of men who relied on the ‘reckless' rifle. The little Mongolian mare bred for the racetrack officially joined the Marines on October 26, 1952”.

Lt. Pedersen chose Private First Class Monroe Coleman to take care of Reckless and to be her companion. Pedersen then gave Platoon Sergeant Joseph Latham the responsibility of putting her through boot, or rather hoof, camp. Both Marines as well as their platoon commander had prior experience with horses.

Reckless quickly became part of the unit and was allowed to roam freely throughout the camp, entering the marines' tents, where she would sleep on cold nights, and was known for her willingness to eat nearly anything, including scrambled eggs, Coca-Cola, beer and, once, about $30 worth of poker chips! 

The brave hearted mare defied minefields and hailing shrapnel to deliver ammunition to her division on the frontlines. In one day alone, Reckless made fifty-one trips up, down, over, and through treacherous territory, carrying supplies and ammo, and evacuating wounded comrades-in-arms. Time, and again, Reckless demonstrated her steadfast devotion to the Marines who had become her herd.

Pint-sized Reckless was wounded in combat twice, and became the first horse in the Marine Corps known to have participated in an amphibious landing. In 1953, she was given the battlefield rank of Corporal. In 1954, she was officially promoted to staff sergeant.

Reckless was awarded two Purple Hearts for her valor, a distinction never bestowed upon an animal before or since. Her wartime service record was featured in The Saturday Evening Post, and LIFE magazine recognized her as one of America's 100 all-time heroes.

In 2014, author Robin Hutton has reignited excitement about this nearly forgotten legend in Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse, a 370-page biography that topped the New York Times Best Seller list. In acknowledgment of Sgt. Reckless, the National Museum of the Marine Corps erected a Sgt. Reckless Memorial Monument, and now, a second memorial is underway at Camp Pendleton, California, where Reckless lived out her natural lifespan in peace. 

On Saturday, July 22, HITS Chicago in partnership with the Evil Horse Brewing Company, an award-winning microbrewery located in Crete, Illinois, and the Equus Film Festival, and Author Robin Hutton will present a tribute to Sgt. Reckless.

Sgt. Reckless Day at HITS Chicago will feature events honoring our Korean War Veterans.  A pre-event party will begin on Friday, July 21, at 5pm at Evil Horse Brewing, 1338 Main Street, Crete, Illinois with a book signing of Sgt. Reckless by author Robin Hutton and an unveiling of original Sgt. Reckless art pieces by Chicago-based artist Lessie Venardo Dixon.

The official celebration will begin at noon on Saturday, July 22nd at Balmoral Park – 26435 South Dixie Highway, Crete, IL 60417.  The festivities will include a color guard, bagpipes, singers, and a film about the life and times of Sgt. Reckless. The event will also include footage from “Operation Mustang” and “A Back Country Recovery”, two feature films which show how horses are effectively serving as therapy animals to treat military veterans suffering from PTSD. 

In addition to book signings by Robin Hutton, author Cate Folsom, author of “Smoke The Donkey: A Marines Unlikely Friend” will also be on-site for book signings.  Smoke was taken in by U.S. Marines after he showed up malnourished and wounded at Camp Taqaddum in Anbar province during the Iraq War in 2008.  He quickly became their mascot, friend, and therapy animal.

At 2PM, spectators will be able to watch a spectacular display of modern day horsemanship in the $50,000 HITS CHICAGO SGT. RECKLESS GRAND PRIX.  

And, at 6PM, Evil Horse Brewing will host an ‘after-party’ to unveil Sgt. Reckless American Pale Ale, a specially crafted brew in honor of America’s War Horse.

From the racetrack to the battlefield—dauntless, fearless, and exemplar of Semper Fi—she was The Pride of the Marines.

# # # # Written by Susan Kayne for HITS Horse Shows # # # #