A sturdy, Mongolian mare was on her way to becoming a champion on a Korean race track when a lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps purchased her for $250. She was renamed “Reckless” after the “Recoilless rifle“, a tube-like gun that was unique to the 5th Marine rifle company. The recoilless rifle was nicknamed “the reckless rifle” because the term fit anyone who fired it as the weapon’s kick back instantly alerted one’s enemies to the shooter’s exact position. Reckless proved herself to be the blend of “careless and fearless” the soldiers associated with those brave enough to handle the gun. With Reckless’ help, the Marines held the line against the Chinese during the Korean War. Used primarily to carry shells up steep inclines, Reckless proved to be an amazing asset: unshakable, reliable, and determined. She carried over 250 lbs on her back each trip, sometimes carrying the shells the equivalent of forty miles in a single battle without stopping. When she was not carrying shells, she often carried the wounded to medical attention. To the soldiers, Reckless became a fellow Marine. She was so important to the war effort, in fact, that she was eventually awarded the rank of “staff sergeant” by the Marines, and in the 1990s, Time magazine named her as one of America’s 100 all-time most important heroes.
I confess I struggled with this book. The story itself is intriguing – a courageous mare plucked from a racetrack becomes one of the Marine Corps’ most valuable assets during the Korean War, but to view this as another version of “War Horse” would be a mistake. Reading this book, it seems that Clavin, a former writer for The New York Times, is more suited to newspaper writing than book-length works. The dialogue is stilted and Reckless herself is often treated as an afterthought, making occasional appearances in between long descriptions of military formations and battles. The book is much more about the hardships and experiences of individual Marines serving during the war, which is fine, but is not what one would expect from the book’s title. It seems that there wasn’t enough to uncover about Reckless’ life, and therefore a substantial amount of filler was needed to create the book. Sentences such as “He wasn’t thinking of Reckless’s feelings, though they were very important to him” weaken the story.
Furthermore, it’s apparent from the writing that Clavin knows little about horses as he describes Reckless as “sired by a stallion…and therefore half stallion but would always be described as a Mongolian mare”. As every horse on earth is “sired by a stallion” (a stallion being an uncastrated male horse), it would be like saying I’m described as a woman, but I am technically half male because my father is a male. Errors like that undermine the author’s authority on the subject and should have been caught by an editor. Clavin also tends to anthropomorphize the horse, as if to put the reader inside the horse’s head, and that gives the impression that the subject is a little girl, not an animal.
Reckless lived out her retirement at Camp Pendleton, where she remained until her death in 1968. It is undeniable that this mare’s story deserves an audience, but unfortunately, Reckless deserves a story better than the one written in this book’s pages. For those interested in hearing more about the story of Reckless, you can find her story on YouTube and Facebook.