When and how did you first learn about Sgt. Reckless?
I first discovered the story of Reckless in July 2006 in a book entitled “Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover’s Soul.” The story was about the birth of her first colt, Fearless, at Camp Pendleton. I read just three paragraphs of her heroics in Korea and I was hooked. But more importantly, I was stunned that I had never heard about her before, because to me, this is the GREATEST horse story that I had ever read. When I googled her name, only four items came up on the internet – FOUR! I discovered she was iconic in the 50s and 60s, but disappeared from the pages of history. So, I made it my mission to make sure she is never forgotten again — and, that her story reaches the iconic stature of Secretariat and Seabiscuit with the masses before I’m done!
What was it about Sgt. Reckless that gave you so much inspiration?
What struck me the most about this remarkable mare was the love she had for her fellow Marines, and the love they had for her — not to mention her amazing heroics, of course. The Marines became her herd, and she would follow them anywhere – knowing that they would protect and take care of her. When you think that in her most heroic battle she made 51 one trips up to the guns, and delivered 386 rounds of ammunition on her back (that’s over 9,000 pounds!) – MOST OF THE TIME SOLO! – well, that’s just an incredible feat for a horse to do. Especially when you realize that incoming shells and artillery were exploding at the rate of 500 rounds per minute! There was so much incoming and outgoing firepower that they were colliding mid-air causing aerial bursts that rained down on the troops. It looked like the 4th of July, and she was in the middle of it all! She never balked, or stopped – even after she was wounded twice and earned two Purple Hearts! She still carried wounded down off of the battlefield. The Marines would throw their flak jackets over her to protect her, and then they would use her as a shield to head up to the gun sites. It’s amazing what she did – and there will never be another horse like her. She is a true inspiration and she defines the word, “Marine.” As a matter of fact, I like to say “She wasn’t a horse – she was a Marine!” because no truer words have ever been spoken.
I know this was a project of love, but I also know book writing can be a long, difficult process. Did you have any major hang ups along your journey?
As I mentioned, I discovered her story in July 2006. The first year or so I just picked at it a bit as I had a full time job that kept me busy. But the story never let go of my heart strings. Because it took time to track down the Marines that served with her in Korea and at Camp Pendleton, or their family members if they had since passed, I finally got the ball rolling a bit in 2008. I actually wrote her script first, and then Spielberg announced “War Horse” and I couldn’t get a meeting in Hollywood for my script. That devastated me at first because I thought he was doing MY war horse – but thankfully he did not. But what a setback for me at the time! So I regrouped and focused on finishing her book, and then also raising money for her monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, VA. It took me seven years to research and write the book, and about a year to get it published. It was actually published almost eight years to the day that I discovered her story. (On the topic of the movie War Horse…I said to my husband after learning of Reckless’ story…”That movie War Horse would have been so much better if it was about Reckless!”).
What has been the hardest part of getting the book out there and sharing Sgt. Reckless with the world?
It is so much work being a first time writer and getting your story out there. Also trying to get someone in Hollywood to take you seriously and read your script for a movie. But the book has been so well received when I do get to talk about her that it keeps me going to want to do so much more. I’ve been trying to get on the national TV talk shows, whether morning, afternoon or late night, because I know if I get a big enough megaphone this story will go viral. We haven’t gone viral yet, and I don’t quite understand why because every holiday more and more people discover her story and can’t believe they never heard about her before – or that a movie has not been made of her incredible tale.
During your research, did you come across any people or stories diverging from Sgt. Reckless that really struck you?
There are so many remarkable stories in this book – as many as each remarkable person who shared their stories with me. But there are two that really stood out for me.
The first would be Sgt Harold Wadley. I would have to say Harold Wadley’s interview was by far the most compelling as he saw her in action during her most heroic battle of Outpost Vegas in March 1953. The way he describes seeing this tired struggling horse in the flarelight just sent chills up my spine! And that she survived! As he says, “There must have been an angel riding that mare that day.”
The second one was from George Johannes who was also at Outpost Vegas. He didn’t see Reckless during the battle as he got off the hill just before the battle began. However, he described a scene that I will never forget – when he saw four Marines vaporized in front of him when mortar fire hit their bunker. “Red rain” was what he was covered with. Since I wrote that story in my book, I’ve had several Marines tell me, sadly, that they too had witnessed the very same thing.
Have you considered telling the stories of other war horses? I think you have hit upon a topic that so many can enjoy. The horse has been such a vastly important part of our history, but so many today forget that since…as horses have been relegated to sporting animal and pet.
I would love to write more about other war horses. It is an incredible topic. But I’ve also found that all animals that serve in war – whether pigeon, dog, horse – even a cat, donkey, and an elephant – are wonderful stories in their own right and deserve to be told. There is a medal in Great Britain called The Dickin Medal, which is known as the “Victoria Cross for Animals”. The animals that have been honored with this medal are really amazing. I’ve applied for this medal for Reckless, and if she is awarded it, I think I will write about all of the others heroes that received this medal over the years.
Do you ride yourself? What is your horse story (and if you don’t have one…it makes it even cooler that this little mare inspired you so!)?
I have ridden and love it, but I don’t ride nearly as much as I’d like. I have never owned a horse, but it seems that everything I was writing at the time I discovered Reckless’s story had a horse in it! I LOVE HORSES! And this little horse grabbed me by the heartstrings and wouldn’t let go. She still has control of the reins – hahaha!
Do you have any other books or projects planned in the future?
There are a couple of projects I’m tossing around. One is on the Secret Line that southern spies used during the Civil War which is quite fascinating. I’m enjoying the research on that. But I must say that heroic animals have just really captured my heart – so I just have to explore that a little bit more. And of course I am working hard to sell my screenplay on Reckless and get her movie made! I’ll keep you posted!
What advice do you have to offer other writers and researchers attempting to tell a true life story?
For starters, write what you are passionate about! That will keep you going when the thoughts dry up – and we all have those days! If you find a topic that stirs your emotions and your passion – run with it!
Secondly, research your topic thoroughly – and that applies to writing a true life story or writing a novel. You MUST get the research right, because if you don’t, that will cause readers not to trust you – and you need their trust so they will go on the journey with you, plus have them want to read future stories that you write.
Mark Twain once said, “Write what you know.” I don’t really agree with that. At least for me, I find that if I write about what I DON’T know, that’s amazing – because then I LEARN something when I research my topic! And it’s in the learning and growing that keeps me going. It’s exciting! BUT, there’s a catch in that because you have to make sure that you do write what you’ve LEARNED – and you must have the facts right! GETTING THE HISTORY RIGHT IS EVERYTHING .
For my novel, it’s a ghost story that takes place during the Civil War, the Kennedy assassination era, and present day. Man, I got every Civil War book I could get my hands on, and it opened up a whole passion for the Civil War that I never had before. For my book on Reckless, that happened with the Korean War, and connecting with all of the amazing Marines and other people that came in touch with Reckless. I also had to make sure I had all of the horse references correct.
For instance (and please forgive me for being so simplistic here but I’m trying to make a point), there’s no easier way to lose my horse audience than to say something silly like, “Reckless was half stallion.” Well, duh! Horse people would know I didn’t know what I was talking about if I got that simple fact wrong, and so they would dismiss the rest of my research because they couldn’t trust that I had the facts correct on everything else.
Getting the research right is critical. And be sure to cite your sources! For me there is nothing worse than reading about a piece of history and wanting to check a source for further information, and the author didn’t make the effort to provide the source. To me that’s shoddy research and writing. Make the effort – get it right -and it will pay off immensely when the book is out!
Tell me a bit about your fund raising initiative to get memorials for Sgt. Reckless? How do you plan on continuing to share her with the world?
Thanks for asking about the fundraising for the monument to Reckless at Camp Pendleton. This is our second monument to her, and so she will be on the east coast and west coast! Because she is buried at Camp Pendleton, it will be very special to honor her there. We are about 2/3rds of the way there of our fundraising needs, but she will be stunning when she is finished! Because it is such a large gift we are giving the Marine Corps, we need to get permission all the way up to the Secretary of the Navy to put her on base! So that’s where we are now. We hope to get her dedicated before the end of the year and we will for sure send you pictures of the event! If you would like more information on donating (we are a 501 (c) 3) to the monument, please go to www.sgtreckless.com to learn more. We really appreciate your support! Oh! And after Camp Pendleton, we have been approached by South Korea to place a monument for her there as well! Reckless will be going back home!
For more information you can go to www.sgtreckless.com and learn about the monuments and events that we have planned honoring Reckless, and book signing that I will be doing. The paperback version of my book hits the stores on August 10, 2015! Woo hoo! It contains a new Foreword from the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen James Amos, who gave the command to unveil the monument in 2013 when he was still Commandant! (A day that I will never forget!) There is also a new set of four trading cards in the back of the book, and a few new pictures of Reckless that I discovered since the hardcover came out. You can also join her fan club on Facebook to stay on top of current events, and we have a lot of fun there too, plus we have a store with great Sgt. Reckless merchandise (store.sgtreckless.com) where all profits go to the Sgt Reckless Memorial Fund until all monies are raised for her monument at Camp Pendleton. Thanks so much for your wonderful love and support of this great hero! Forever Reckless!
If you are interested in learning more about Sgt. Reckless (and I think you should be running to the book store right now), I highly recommend the book – which as mentioned above will be out in paperback form in just a few more days (you can already order it on Amazon). Many thanks to Robin Hutton for her dedication and work towards sharing this hero with the world. I cannot wait to see what the future holds in store for her and Sgt. Reckless!