Forever frozen in time, the mare struggles up a steep incline in her ill-fitting tack and pack saddle. Her head bows, and her tail lifts in the wind. Strapped to her back are four canisters of live explosives. The life-size bronze statue is called The Uphill Battle, and Staff Sergeant Reckless, the mare it depicts, was a United States Marine.
The 10-foot-tall, 1,200-pound equine monument sits at the end of a corridor of trees in the Semper Fidelis Memorial Park of the Marine Corps Heritage Center in Triangle, Virginia. Created by wildlife artist Jocelyn Russell, it was unveiled and dedicated on July 26, 2013. It memorializes a diminutive mare who became a hero during the Korean War and captured the hearts of the Marines with whom she served.
On October 26, 1952, Marine Lt. Eric Pedersen purchased a small, chestnut-colored Mongolian mare from a stable boy at the racetrack in Seoul, Korea, for $250. The boy needed the money to procure a prosthetic leg for his sister. Pederson intended to use the mare to carry ammunition to the front lines for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marines. The Marines immediately accepted the horse as one of their own and named her Reckless, the same nickname used for their recoilless rifles. The troops trained Reckless to navigate through barbed wire, to lay flat on the battlefield when under fire, and to run for her bunker in the event of incoming artillery fire. She worked, ate, and slept with her fellow Marines.
Her most stunning acts of bravery occurred during the three-day Battle of Outpost Vegas/Vegas Hill in March 1953. On the worst day of fighting, Reckless made 51 trips, mostly alone, to carry ammunition from the platoon supply camp to the front lines. Estimates are that the mare walked 35 miles under enemy fire, through open rice paddies and up steep inclines, and carried a total of almost five tons of live ammunition. On the return trips, she transported wounded and dead soldiers back from the front lines. She was twice-wounded herself, but she never stopped. For her feats of heroism that day, she was promoted to Corporal.
When the war was over, Reckless was brought to the United States. She was hailed as “America’s War Horse” and stabled at Camp Pendleton, where she rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Reckless received two Purple Hearts for her injuries sustained during the Battle of Outpost Vegas, in addition to numerous other military decorations. Reckless died on May 13, 1968, at the estimated age of 20, and she was buried at Camp Pendleton with full military honors.
The base of the Staff Sgt. Reckless Monument contains a lock of her tail hair. The monument’s plaque bears a quote from Sgt. Harold Wadley, who served with her: “The spirit of her loneliness and her loyalty, in spite of the danger, was something else to behold. Hurting. Determined. And alone. That’s the image I have imprinted in my head and heart forever.”
A second memorial to Staff Sgt. Reckless, featuring Russell’s sculpture, was dedicated at Camp Pendleton on October 26, 2016. The dedication of a third, almost identical, monument was held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky, on May 12, 2018.
Know Before You Go
Semper Fidelis Memorial Park is located adjacent to the National Museum of the Marine Corps on the grounds of the Marine Corps Heritage Center in Triangle, Virginia. The Center is part of Marine Corps Base Quantico, but the Museum and its grounds are located outside the gates of the base.
The Center is open every day but Christmas, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission and parking are free.
The monument is located at the end of Marine Trail.