This Memorial Day our nation will pause for a moment to pay tribute to our brave men and women in uniform. We will honor our fallen soldiers, our veterans, and those who are currently serving. Hopefully, we will not forget to acknowledge the many brave military animals that fought and continue to fight by their side.
For hundreds of years, our military has had the benefit of devoted four-legged partners who have risked their own lives to protect and defend their fellow soldiers. While there are countless stories of heroism and bravery from our military animals, there are a few a little less known. The stories of Nemo (a decorated canine soldier) and Reckless (a one-time Korean racehorse) most accurately exemplify the level of dedication and loyalty these animals possess.
Nemo, a German Shephard war hero, was deployed to South Vietnam with his handler, 22-year old Airman 2nd Class Robert Thorneburg. One December night in 1966, Thorneburg and Nemo were patrolling the perimeter of the air base when Nemo alerted his handler to the presence of enemy soldiers in their vicinity. Before Thorneburg could radio for help, they were fired upon. Nemo charged towards the enemy fire where he sustained a bullet wound to the face. The bullet entered under his right eye and exited his mouth. Thorneburg was also shot and knocked to the ground, but Nemo fought on despite his injury. This gave Thorneburg the additional time he needed to radio for help. Nemo continued to fight, launching his 85-pound body at the guerrillas until reinforcements arrived and killed the remaining Viet Cong soldiers. He then dragged himself over to Thorneburg and crawled on top of him to protect him from harm. Nemo was permanently blinded in his right eye, but returned to the US with Honors in 1967 and was able to live out the rest of his life as a hero.
Nemo’s story is one that illustrates the commitment and devotion our military dogs possess. They have always been a formidable, brave military partner.
Fortunately, our troops have had the benefit of another animal partner that provides a very different kind of assistance –the horse. The story of Reckless is certainly one of the best.
Reckless began her life as a Korean racehorse, but was purchased and recruited by the U.S. Marines Corps in 1952. A young Korean stable boy reluctantly sold her for $250 to purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister who had lost her leg to a land mine. Reckless was very friendly with her new Marine Corps family, often sharing their rations, entering their quarters, and snuggling with them on cold nights. It soon became evident that Reckless enjoyed eating almost ANYTHING – Soda, candy, beer, eggs, coffee, poker chips, and even an occasional hat! Although she had unusual eating habits, Reckless was a dependable soldier that was primarily used to transport ammunition. After 2 years of exemplary service, Reckless was officially promoted to the rank of Sergeant.
During the Korean War, at the five-day Battle of Outpost Vegas in 1953, Sergeant Reckless once again proved her worth and allegiance to her fellow U.S. Marines. In a single day of the battle, Reckless made 51 trips to the front lines delivering ammunition and bringing injured soldiers back with her for medical care. She carried 9,000 pounds of ammunition to the front lines, requiring her to cross miles of rice paddies and steep mountain trails under enemy fire. After each ammunition delivery, an injured Marine was laid across her back for transport back to base camp. As the battle escalated, the Marines had many casualties and could no longer spare a man to lead her to the front lines. The small chestnut mare managed to make the dangerous trek on her own without Marine accompaniment. Reckless was shot twice, hit above her eye and in her left flank. Even with her injuries, she diligently continued the back and forth deliveries on her own.
For her bravery, Reckless was promoted to Staff Sergeant and was awarded a multitude of medals including 2 purple hearts. After the war, Reckless was shipped back to the U.S., arriving in San Francisco on November 10, 1954 (the Marine Corps birthday). As a special guest at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball, Reckless celebrated the occasion in true form by devouring the birthday cake, several flower bouquets, and a good portion of her fully-decorated, custom-made blanket. Reckless will long be remembered for her dedicated service AND her incredibly unusual appetite.