Monday, July 21, 2014

Sgt. Reckless: America's War Horse

Author:  Robin Hutton
Genre:  Biography/History/War

Five Stars

She might not have been much to look at-a small "Mongolian mare," they called her-but she came from racing stock, and had the blood of a champion.  Much more than that, Reckless became a war hero-in fact, she became a combat Marine, earning staff sergeant's stripes before her retirement to Camp Pendleton.

This once famous horse, recognized as late as 1997 by Life magazine as one of America's great heroes-the greatest war horse in American history, in fact-has unfortunately now been largely forgotten.  But author Robin Hutton is set to change all that.  Not only has she been the force behind recognizing Reckless with a monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps and at Camp Pendleton, but she has now put between hard covers the full story, the rousing-sometimes comic, sometimes tragic-life of this four-legged war hero who hauled ammunition to frontline Marines and inspired them with her relentless, and reckless, courage.

Seabiscuit, Misty of Chincoteague, Dan Patch, Man O'War, Secretariat...Reckless belongs in their number as one of America's most beloved horses.  Hers is a story to inspire young and old, military veteran and casual equestrian.  Here is the story of the horse they called Reckless.


Reckless began life in Korea just before the war.  She was bred as a racehorse, and owned  Huk Moon (a pseudonym), the young jockey who rode her.  He had owned her dam, Ah-Chim-Hai, or Flame of the Morning.  He was given her as a gift for his many acts of bravery and kindness during World War II.  Because he loved her so much, when she was finally bred, he named her offspring Flame of the Morning also.  But when her mother died suddenly, he wanted nothing to do with the young filly..  So a friend of his took her to be raised by one of his own mares, and it wasn't until some time later when he saw her playing with other young horses that he realized she was much like her mother and his love for her grew.  When war struck in 1950, Kim and his family had to temporarily leave their home, taking Flame with them.  When they returned, two years later, there wasn't much left.

The family did what they could to survive; but one day his sister Chun, working in a rice paddy, was badly hurt.  A worker next to her stepped on a landmine, and Chun's leg was mangled and would have to be removed.  It was soon after that, that Kim realized he would have to sell his horse to purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister.  This is where the marines stepped in.

I won't go into a lengthy detail of the recoilless rifle.  It is enough to say that it took three or four men to carry it, and more to carry each 75mm shell.  It was a powerful gun, and each man could carry no more than two shells, due to the weight.  It was backbreaking work.  Watching his men run up and down the hill to secure more shells was dangerous work, and Lt. Eric Pedersen, commander of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, knew something needed to be done.

Leave it to say that after searching for a horse, he discovered Reckless. Paying $250 American dollars for her, Kim knew he could now obtain the leg for his sister, heartbroken though he was to lose his precious Flame.  Little did he know that she would go on to a greater destiny, one that would more than likely save the lives of many Americans.  For it was she, renamed Reckless by the marines, who would be trained to carry the shells to the soldiers.

It was dangerous work.  She must be trained carefully.  Reckless would travel on her own, up and down the treacherous hills, with anywhere from four to ten rounds strapped to her back, in a specially made pack.  She made the journey many times, herself being wounded twice and still continuing on in battle.

I will say no more, except that you need to read this book.  Not only did I read the book, I read much of it to my husband, when I came across something particularly striking; and he listened intently, which is an achievement since he really only reads technical manuals or things of that sort.  This is how riveting the book is. 

There are books that excite us, agitate us, soothe, enamor and make us feel giddy.  Only once in a while does a book come along that pulls from our soul.  This is one of those books.  I dare you to read this book without it bringing tears to your eyes.  It did mine, many times.  It was a beautiful story, yet heart-wrenching to read.  It is beautifully written, and I can only hope that I felt some of what the author felt while she was researching Reckless's life. 

If one can say that a horse lived life to the fullest, then Reckless is that horse.  Not only did she work as hard, if not harder, than any marine ever did, she also joined with them in their play.  She slept alongside them in their tents when the nights grew cold; she ate what they ate-and that included cookies, pancakes, peanut butter; she drank what they drank, including Coca-Cola and beer.  In fact, many of the stories of Reckless are downright humorous; and show what an intelligent being she was.

My regret is that I did not know anything about her before, but due to the generosity of Regnery Press in providing this book for my review, I plan to remedy that.  On one of my travels back east I plan to visit her memorial in Triangle, Virginia.  However, I am looking forward to it as soon as possible.

Hopefully, this book will renew interest in one of the bravest marines ever - Sgt. Reckless of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon.

Highly recommended for anyone, and especially for everyone.

I was also given the opportunity to interview the author, Robin Hutton.  Below you find her thoughts and why she felt she needed to write this book.

1.  What made you determined to tell Sgt. Reckless's story?
When I discovered the story of Reckless eight years ago in Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul, I thought this is indeed the GREATEST horse story I had ever read - so why had I never heard of her before?  I googled her name, and only 4 - FOUR! - items came up on the internet.  I thought that was a travesty, especially as I researched her story I discovered how iconic she had been in the 50's, and that she had sadly disappeared from the pages of history.  She had become another forgotten hero from the Forgotten War known as the Korean War.  As I interviewed the Marines that served with her and learned their stories, and understood the love they had for this horse, I made it my mission that she, and they, would NEVER be forgotten again.  Her spirit lived through them, and I was determined to tell this story.  She deserves her rightful place in history - and with my book, the monuments, and hopefully a movie, I know that will happen.

2.  There were passages that were difficult to read.  In fact, I spent a lot of time with tissues in my hand.  Was it difficult to write passages of this book and were you crying at times as I was?

I have cried many, many, many times throughout the writing of this book.  Some were difficult tears, some were incredibly joyful tears.  I'm so glad you did too!  That means I did my job!  Her story just does that to you, doesn't it?

3.  What was your favorite part of the book and why?

My favorite part of the book was interviewing and incorporating the wonderful stories of all the Marines and other people whose lives have been touched by Reckless - especially when they sent me their personal pictures!  I just loved it when I opened my mail and would see a different image of Reckless!  She came to life for me.  Most of them have beome my "forever friends," because of the bond we have developed over the years.  To hear them describe their experiences, even though most were interviewed over the phone, you could HEAR the emotion in their voices as they talked about this wonderful horse.  There is one Marine who still calls me on occasion to tell me how proud he is of me and thanks me for all that I've done to bring her story out to the masses, and every time he has to hang up because he is choking back his tears.  You can hear it in his voice, and that makes me cry too!

4.  How do you feel now that this book and memorial have become a reality?

It is difficult to put into words the gratitude that is in my heart.  TRULY.  The book turned out better than I ever could have imagined!  It is STUNNING!  And I feel that it does Reckless justice, and I am so PROUD of that!  I am so incredibly excited to finally get it out there and spread the word even better now because I have the book I can give to people and say, " is a story you will never forget.  Here is a hero you will never forget.  Here is a book you will want to share with everyone you know."  And my publisher, Regnery History, understood and loved this story from the get-go, and they have done everything in their power to make it the MAGNIFICENT book that it is - including the exclusive trading cards in the back!  As I said - so grateful!

The dedication of the monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps will be a day that is etched in my head and heart forever.  There is no way to describe the emotions that overwhelmed me as I would look across the sea of people who were there to honor this horse and see the beaming faces of those Marines that were able to attend the dedication ceremony of the monument.  With tear-filled eyes they gazed upon this magnificent sculpture - it was as if their comrade-in-arms had come back to life and was with them in the flesh.  Their tears made me cry because I understood the emotions they were feeling.  To see the highest levels of the Marine Corps (the Commandant, General James Amos and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, Michael Barrett) turn out to honor Reckless that day -- well, I think I was having an out of body experience at some point because it was just beyond anything even my mind could have imagined - and I had imagined a pretty awesome event!  It was just a GLORIOUs day for all of us to experience, and I tried to capture some of that in the book in the last chapter entitled, "Operation: Reckless."

And now we get to continue the honors with another monument to Reckless at Camp Pendleton, where she lived out her days and is buried.  That will most likely be dedicated next spring.  And I'm excited to announce that there is also the possibility of putting a third monument in South Korea, in an area where the hills are stained with the blood of so many heroic Americans.  So there's still much to do!

And don't even get me started on the movie - which obviously will be the icing on the cake!

5.  Finally, a question just for fun (and to let readers connect with you a little) are you a morning person or a nightowl?

Back "in the day" (and if I told you how many days ago that was, I'd have to shoot you) I was a night owl because I loved to go out and dance!  (still do - dance, that is!)  But now I've become a morning person, and I do love it.  I find that if I can get up early in the morning and hit the ground running (with coffee cup in hand, of course!) I can get stuff done by noon, if I'm lucky.  I still work all day long and into the night because I have lots to do, but I LOVE what I do, so I really don't consider it work.  And now I'm excited because the hard work of writing the book is done, and the FUN work of selling the book is upon me!  Woo hoo!!!

I want to thank Robin and Regnery for the interview, I truly appreciate it.  I hope that this gives you an understanding of what drove her to write this book, and also hope that you'll read it yourselves.  You'll be glad you did.


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