The following is a partial and approximate transcript of the show:
There are horses that you fall in love with after spending considerable time with them. Your relationship grows slowly, carefully. You become their friend. They become yours. They become part of your soul.
There are other horses that you fall in love with, however, whom you never have had even the pleasure of meeting. And it all happens rather quickly. Today’s show is about a horse like that. A horse who, just by hearing about her, what she did, how she did it, you can’t help but feel love for her.
The story that we are going to explore today is one of those kinds of stories that at first listen might seem to be too good to be true. Yet this story is true. While some of the details might have been changed somewhat, the heart of the story, the story at its very core, is true.
The story is one which, because of its nature, has passed into legend. But what that means, what a legend actually is, is not all that easy to say.
In a pamphlet issued by the Marine Corps entitled Marine Corps Lore, the legend is described in this way:
“A legend may be defined as a shining truth that cannot always pass the test of strict factual accuracy. The legend is poetry; the fact is prose, and very dull prose it sometimes is.”
One scholar has suggested, however, that a legend contains “an historical core which is an accurate recording of an historical event. The legend narrative surrounding this core may distort the historical contents of the narrative.” This is the way in which we will use the word legend here.
Today’s show centers, then, on an amazing story of an amazing horse, a Mongolian mare, who passes into legend. It is the kind of story that seems to confirm all of the wonderful things that in our heads we tend to think about horses. This is the kind of story that makes even the more skeptical have another look at just what a horse is capable of being and doing.
My guest today is author, Tom Clavin who has written a book about this horse, entitled “Reckless: The Racehorse who became a Marine Corps Hero.”
The first thing you might wish to know about this horse is where her name “Reckless” came from. You might think that it seems a rather odd name for a horse, and especially so for a horse that becomes a legend. Because in many ways she was the farthest thing she could be from being reckless. She was rather careful, methodical, dedicated, determined, intelligent. These are some of the adjectives that could be used to describe her. The word ‘reckless’ would not be among them.
The first name she was ever given, as far as we know, was Yuen meaning ‘happiness’ or ‘merriment.’ But her name was changed by a young, seemingly very courageous, and very kind and responsible Korean boy whom we will call Kim Huk Moon. Kim Huk Moon had an important part to play in the formation of this story and legend. In many ways he is a kind of hero, too, and it is difficult not to feel great affection for him. Kim Huk Moon changed her name from Yuen to Flame-of-the-Morning because of the way her beautiful coat would appear in the morning sunlight on the racetrack.
The mare’s name changed once more, however, when she was bought by a U.S. Marine named Eric Pederson for the purpose of helping the Marines transport heavy ammunition. Kim Huk Moon’s sister had stumbled upon a land mine and severely injured her leg. To obtain a prosthetic leg for her would have cost much more money than Kim Huk Moon had. It broke his heart to sell his horse to Pederson, but he sold Flame-of-the-Morning to be able to get the prosthetic leg for his sister.
The Marines, in turn, decided upon her name by considering that a Marine had to be both careless and fearless to use their unique device because of its “back blast.” Put together these two adjectives gave the idea of having to be reckless in order to take on the task. And thus the mare was named as she would be helping in this regard.
Now to the core of our story. It goes like this:
Reckless was genetically a Mongolian horse. She was a smaller horse, about 14 hands high and weighing about 900 pounds. But she was a horse incredibly large in spirit. She was, it would seem, born to be an amazing racehorse. But she was even more than an amazing racehorse. Much more.
Reckless becomes a hero in her work with the Marines during the Korean War. She works incredibly hard and smartly hauling heavy ammunition up 45-degree hills. At first, she was guided by a Marine who would accompany her up and down. But she quickly caught on to what was being asked of her and was able to make the trip up and then back down to the supply depot alone. She would even figure out where to deliver her load when the marines had moved while she was at the bottom. On her way back down she would, many times, carry the wounded. Over two days she is estimated to have carried between six and seven tons.
Here is how one eyewitness described the dedicated work of Reckless, taken from the book whose author is our guest today:
"Going up the ridge, in and out of view, was this little mare. I tell you, her silhouette in all the smoke, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought, ‘Good grief, it’s Reckless!’ I thought for sure there had to be an angel riding that mare.”
With the unconscious Marine on her back, Reckless doggedly picked her way down the rest of the ridge and across the rice paddies with artillery and mortar shells landing all around her. Nothing but a direct hit would stop her. When she got to the supply depot, the men there gently took the Marine off her saddle and replaced him with a fresh load...Barely pausing to rest and totally on her own, Reckless turned and set off on the next stage of her journey into marine Corps legend." (184-185)
What is also touching and revealing of her nature, however, is the way that Reckless was already a hero even before she was ever purchased by the Marines. Among many other hardships, Kim Huk Moon’s family had to flee Seoul in the face of the oncoming Communists. And in a moving account, Reckless pulled the little family in a cart towards safety. When they reached the Han River, a seemingly dead end to their escape because of the massive crowds of people waiting for a ferry, Reckless transported the family members across the river to safety ... on her back ...even all by herself on one of the trips.
In these stories of Reckless we see an amazing, selfless, dedication to the task at hand. We are moved by the intelligence and determination and tenacity of a horse that would not give up. She becomes larger than life. And it is in this sense that she is legend.
She becomes a legend in that she performed a herculean task in hauling six to seven tons up a hill over 2 days.
In that she performed that work without anyone to accompany her, she is legendary.
That she at times seemed to forget that she was a horse and, for example, went into one of her favourite tents when it got cold to sleep by the heater with the Marines, she is legendary.
But this account of Reckless also raises the question of what our understanding of a horse is and is capable of, in the first place. That Reckless was a magnificent horse there can be no question. But what we might ask is whether this is also a matter of discovering a magnificent potential partnership of human and horse. That is, there was a difficult job that needed to be performed and Pederson had the idea to ask and train a horse to perform the task. What we are suggesting here is that what may also have been legendary is the way in which a human and horse interacted. The key is that the horse was asked to perform at a significantly higher level than what a horse normally performs at. Taking nothing away from the legend of Reckless, we must ask ourselves if horses are actually much more capable and intelligent than we often give them credit for. It is almost as if they have been waiting all along for someone to ask them to show us how smart they are. How much spirit they possess. How much love and devotion they hold within them.
I’d like to welcome Tom Clavin who has written about this amazing horse. He is a bestselling author and has worked as a newspaper and web site editor, magazine writer, TV and radio commentator, and a reporter for The New York Times covering entertainment, sports, and the environment.
This is one story for which there simply doesn’t seem to be enough time to convey all that we would like to about it. Nor to fully convey the magnificence of this horse.
I’ve always admired the Marine motto "Semper fidelis" meaning "Always Faithful." I think this is well exemplified by the way that the Marines cared for Reckless after the Korean war. She enjoyed a very well provided for retirement. The Marines proved themselves always faithful to her. And she had proved herself always loyal to them.
Concluding Song Excerpt:
“Sergeant Reckless” by Marie-Lynn Hammond