The Chinese came in force, focusing their attacks on three outposts in front of the Marines’ frontlines.
Thousands of rounds of rifle fire, mortars and artillery were concentrated on the small outposts as hundreds of Chinese troops swarmed over the positions in March 1953. The fight seesawed back and forth as the two sides fought ferociously.
The air was thick with smoke, tracer rounds were streaking in both directions and the dead and injured were piling up. Marine Sgt. Harold Wadley turned to see a small horse stagger up a hill loaded with heavy 75mm recoilless rifle ammunition.
“I didn’t think she’d live five seconds,” Wadley said.
The horse did survive the war. On Friday, under sunny skies, Marine Gen. James Amos unveiled a larger-than-life bronze statue of the horse, Sgt. Reckless, at a park near the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
About a dozen Marines who served with Reckless, including Wadley, now 79, attended a ceremony at the museum. The statue was unveiled as the nation marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean war.
Robert Blackman, a retired Marine three-star general and president of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, said he hopes the statue will trigger some interest in the Korean war, which is often called the Forgotten War.
When the Chinese first attacked, lighting up the sky with tons of incoming fire, Reckless was frightened. She ran to a bunker, where the Marines found her covered with sweat. But the Marines calmed her and sent her on her mission.
Reckless is credited with making 51 trips in a single day from the ammunition point to the recoilless rifles, which were firing continuously as Marines fought to push the Chinese back.
She carried 386 rounds of ammunition totaling more than 9,000 pounds and walked over 35 miles. Most of the time she walked alone, knowing the route by instinct. “Her gun crew kept firing,” Wadley said.
Outpost Vegas was retaken after a five-day battle.
“Reckless was the only Marine with four legs,” said Wadley, who was dressed in his crisp dress blues for the ceremony.
Reckless was purchased in October 1952 for $250 from a Korean boy who sold her in order to buy an artificial leg for his sister who had lost hers to a land mine. She had a Korean name, but the Americans had trouble pronouncing it, so they named her after the platoon’s radio call sign.
The horse bonded quickly with the Marines. She’d stick her nose in the tent where Marines were living and lumber in, said John Newsom, 77. “She’d eat almost anything,” Newsom said. “She loved Tootsie Rolls.”
The Marines also gave her some of their monthly beer allotment.
Wadley said she would lurk around the Marines when they played poker, allegedly eating some of the poker chips. At night she would nestle with the Marines by a smoky oil stove to ward off the bitter cold.
The Marines taught her how to duck under barbed wire and how to lie flat if caught under fire in the open, Wadley said.
After the war, the Marines managed to bring Reckless to the United States, where she became a minor celebrity. She appeared on television, and magazine profiles were written about her.
She died at Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in California, in 1968.