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Two military horses saluted for exemplary service to US military

The heroism of two military horses has been honored in the United States, with the induction of Sergeant Reckless and Klinger into the Horse Stars Hall of Fame.

The announcement of their induction came in the buildup to Memorial Day, when Americans pay tribute to United States men and women who have died serving their country in the military and express gratitude to all service personnel.

The Horse Stars Hall of Fame is a joint program of the EQUUS Foundation and the United States Equestrian Federation.

The statue in honor of Staff Sergeant Reckless.

The statue in honor of Staff Sergeant Reckless.

Reckless, a Korean pony who stood 11.1 hands who served during the 1950s Korean conflict, and Klinger, a Morgan-Percheron cross that towers above all his human associates at a height of 17 hands, are a contrast not only of size, but of time and place.

Their years of military service were separated by more than half a century and thousands of miles.

Both horses have inspired writers to tell their stories.

In 2004, Betsy Beard, devastated when her son, Army Specialist Bradley Beard, was killed in action in Iraq, came to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a non-profit organization providing services to who have lost a loved one on active duty. She began channeling her grief into writing, subsequently becoming the editor of TAPS Magazine.

She later researched the TAPS mascot and wrote a fictional children’s book, Klinger, a Story of Honor and Hope, for the organization.

Published in 2010, the book is given to children in the TAPS program, along with a stuffed horse modeled after Klinger.

Now Janet Barrett’s new book, They Called Her Reckless – A True Story of War, Love And One Extraordinary Horse, is making Marines proud and winning a host of new fans for this real-life warhorse.

The first full-length biography of the amazing Staff Sergeant Reckless, it tells of the powerful bond between her and her fellow Marines and what it achieved.

Inducted into the Horse Stars Hall of Fame as humanitarian horses, the category overseen by the EQUUS Foundation, Klinger and Reckless show the diversity of what horses can accomplish.

Though the role of a warhorse has virtually disappeared from combat, the work Klinger does with the Army and TAPS goes on.

While the public generally knows more about sport horses, and many of the finest are selected by USEF for membership in the Hall of Fame, the EQUUS Foundation focuses on promoting the other avenues open to horses.

“They are incredible animals,” says Lynn Coakley, the foundation’s president, “and we want people to understand just how much value they have beyond the role of sport horse, exciting as that can be.

“Many horses can go on to other careers after they leave the riding ring,” she says, noting the growing field of therapeutic riding.

Partnering with the US Equestrian Federation to create the Horse Stars Hall of Fame, Coakley believes, is a simple and direct way to let people know the scope of what horses can do.

Staff Sergeant Reckless

Reckless gave exemplary service during the Korean conflict.

Reckless gave exemplary service during the Korean conflict. Photo: US Marine Corps

Sergeant Reckless became an essential part of the US Marine Fifth Regiment during the Korean conflict.

In the mountainous terrain along the border between North and South Korea, much of the combat was trench warfare from ridgelines, and often utilized the 75mm recoilless rifles. Deadly accurate at long ranges, the weapon came with a caveat – it used heavy shells that had to be dragged up the hills.

For Lieutenant Eric Pedersen, the commander of the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, and a lifelong horseman, the solution was a horse. Heading for Seoul, South Korea’s capital, he found what he wanted at the old racetrack that had been reborn as a US Army airstrip.

Though the track was gone, destroyed with the rest of the city in multiple battles, some Korean horsemen were still tending to their ponies, hoping that racing would resume again.

Pedersen paid $US250 of his own money for the three-year-old filly and headed for base camp. It was October, 1952, and then-named Flame turned away from a future in racing and joined the US Marines. Renamed Reckless for the “reckless” rifles she would supply, she was given the rank of private first class and the serial number 1-H.

Pedersen and his gunnery sergeant, Joe Latham, trained Reckless slowly and carefully, conditioning her to the sights and sounds of war while encouraging the other Marines to build a bond with her. In short order, she became an integral member of the platoon, learning quickly to run into her bunker when incoming fire hit the camp, navigate the trails and hills, and calmly accept the roar of the recoilless rifles at close range.

By January 1953, Reckless had been promoted to corporal, and routinely was packing ammunition when the recoilless rifle squads engaged in skirmishes and firefights, and longer planned operations. But brave and steadfast as she was in combat from the start, it was the savage Battle for Outpost Vegas in April 1953 that revealed the true extent of her courage and resilience.

For the better parts of three days and nights, she hauled ammunition – to the recoilless rifles by day and the mortar crews by night – with periodic breaks for water and feed, and short periods of sleep.

Trained to travel by herself prompted one Marine to observe that she was so fast, no handler could keep up with her, anyway. She was wounded twice, patched up and resumed her work without hesitation. Time and again, her fellow Marines marveled at her resoluteness, as she maneuvered across areas where shrapnel was falling, and ran along the narrow berms beside the rice paddies, never stepping off into the mine-laden bogs.

In one day alone, during that terrible April siege, she made 51 trips to the recoilless rifles sites, in all traveling more than 35 miles. She carried 386 of the heavy shells, each weighing 20 to 23 pounds, depending on their content – a total of over 9000 pounds of explosives. Then, descending the ridge to reload, she carried the wounded or dead on her back. It is acknowledged that because of what Reckless accomplished in battle, many Marines came home who might not have, otherwise.

Simply put, she was one of them. Her buddies cut her no slack, yet protected her with their lives – at times, taking off their flak jackets to cover her instead. They were bound together, an amazing unit that accomplished more than either she or her fellow Marines could have done alone.

She was also their friend, if only for a few minutes at a time, raising their spirits and making them laugh. Ever the character, she shared their C-rations and mess hall chow, beers and an occasional whiskey, and on cold nights, their warm tents. Indeed, when she wasn’t executing her combat functions, she thought being the center of attention was her due.

In April 1954, Reckless was promoted to sergeant by one of her many fans, General Randolph McCall Pate, the highest ranking Marine in Korea. Six months later, the promise that she would not be left behind was kept, and Sergeant Reckless sailed for California and a hero’s welcome.

Stationed at Camp Pendleton, she continued on active-duty for the next six years. She appeared at official functions, accompanied her Marines on their long training marches, and in other ways represented the Fifth Regiment. At her final promotion to Staff Sergeant Reckless in 1959, General Pate, now commandant of the Marine Corps, again did the honors as 3000 Marines and guests watched. The following year, Reckless was formally retired to a life of leisure, in her own quarters at the base stables. She died in 1968.

Today, Reckless’ statue stands at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia. In stride, four shells strapped to her back, she again climbs a hill to supply the recoilless rifles. Acquired by the Recoilless Rifle Platoon to haul ammunition to the front lines, she did that and so much more – packing ammunition beyond what anyone thought possible, saving lives, raising spirits, and winning the love and respect of all who knew her.

Klinger

Klinger

Klinger was a compassionate and well behaved gentle giant who provided sterling service. Photo: Patti Gross/ TAPS

Klinger, who was born in 2000,  has touched the lives of many people in his life of service with the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) Caisson Platoon.

Among his duties, he has served as the official Escort to the US president and as a member of the nation’s premier Memorial Affairs and Ceremonial Unit. Klinger has also worked with wounded veterans and been a comfort to the children of TAPS members.

Unlike most other horses, Klinger has had an award-winning children’s book written about him. He also participates in community service events throughout the National Capitol Region, including appearing for the past three years as the guest of honor at the Washington International Horse Show Kids’ Day.

A Morgan Percheron cross, Klinger arrived at the home of the Caisson Platoon when he was three years old. He has participated in more than 5000 full honor military funerals, providing the nation’s heroes with their last ride to their final resting ground in Arlington National Cemetery. The solemn dignity which the men and horses lend to this ceremony is neither accidental nor instinctive. Both men and horses train constantly for this duty.

The seven horses which form the team to pull the caisson through the quiet lanes of Arlington National Cemetery consist of one Section Horse, two Lead Horses, two Swing Horses, and two Wheel Horses. Although all seven animals are saddled, only those on the left and the Section Horse have mounted riders, following the tradition when caissons were used during war. Klinger has served as a Section Horse, leading the others through the cemetery, and as a Wheel Horse closest to the caisson.

Klinger is a compassionate gentle giant who is comfortable and well behaved with the soldiers who work with him daily, as well as with wounded warriors undergoing equine therapy and civilians who visit him in the barn.

Early on, Klinger worked to rehabilitate wounded warriors as a therapy horse for the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Program at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

During the lessons, Caisson Platoon soldiers serve as horse leaders and side walkers. Soldiers helping fellow soldiers is a key strength of the program.

Klinger may stand head and shoulders above any crowd and weigh more than a ton, but this midnight black horse is helping some of the tiniest people left behind following the death of a service member. For years, Klinger has touched the hearts of hurting children attending the TAPS Good Grief Camp over the Memorial Day weekend. The children visit the stable to learn how America honors those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Because of Klinger’s work with the Good Grief Camp, TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll, who holds a degree in Equine Science from Springfield College, wanted a children’s book written to showcase Klinger’s connection to the courageous children of fallen heroes. TAPS Magazine editor Betsy Beard obliged. She researched and wrote Klinger, a Story of Honor and Hope in 2010.

The fictional account of Klinger’s life is an award-winning children’s book that has earned gold medals from Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, Young Voices Foundation, and Military Writers Society of America. In addition, the book was gifted to the Queen of England by Admiral Mullen, when he was the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff.

The story follows a young horse whose dream of fame as a racehorse is disrupted when he must leave his parents and start a new life. Fame and significance seem unattainable, but in the story, as in real life, Klinger finds fulfillment in honoring fallen heroes and bringing comfort to their families.

“As I researched and began writing,” said Beard, “I was overwhelmed by the enormity of what the soldiers and horses of the Caisson Platoon do for those of us who have lost a loved one in service to America.”

Klinger proudly wears a TAPS cooler at special events and honors the organization while educating and informing people about the work army horses do. Whether attending the Washington International Horse Show or leading the Presidential Inauguration Parade,  Klinger is a special horse who has touched the lives of tens of thousands of people and stands tall representing all military horses.

Visit the Horse Stars Hall of Fame here to learn more about all the inductees.

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