Some 1.8 million brave souls have received Purple Heart Medals in the 246-year history of the American military. On this National Purple Heart Day, count among them a pair of four-legged sergeants who earned two each.
Yes, two animals have received Purple Hearts for their wartime wounds: A dog named Sergeant Stubby during World War I and a horse named Sergeant Reckless during the Korean War.
Sergeant Stubby, a part-Boston Terrier mutt, found himself at the front in France during World War I, covertly brought into battle by Cpl. James Conroy. Stubby, in essence, became the guard dog of the U.S. 102nd Infantry Regiment, serving with it through 17 battles.
Sergeant Stubby wore a gas mask, and could detect mustard gas before it reached the troops. His acute hearing enabled him to warn the soldiers of incoming artillery, so that they could take cover. He was wounded twice for which he later received his two Purple Hearts. He also was credited with helping capture a German soldier.
When the war ended, Sergeant Stubby came home with Cpl. Conroy to enjoy major celebrity status. He was honored by General Pershing in Washington, D.C. in 1921, when he received an unofficial military medal for heroism and became the first Army dog accorded a rank. The French honored him with a medal as well.
Sergeant Stubby enjoyed great fame back home. He met three US presidents, starred in movies, in animated features, school materials, posters, and other media. He performed in vaudeville shows with a weekly salary of $62.50 – more than double that of the average American at the time. After he died at age 10 in 1926, a taxidermist preserved his body, which contains his cremains. Conroy gave him to the Smithsonian Institution in 1956.
Decades later, a much bigger critter performed similar heroics in Korea. Staff Sergeant Reckless, a chestnut Mongolian mare racehorse, became the Marines’ packhorse for a six-foot-long, 75mm rifle that weighed more than 100 pounds. The Marines had named it “reckless.”
A racetrack stable boy in Seoul sold the animal to Marines Recoilless Rifle Platoon Commander Eric Pedersen for $250. (The boy then used the cash to pay for a prosthetic for his sister, who lost her leg after stepping on a land mine.)
Petersen and several Marines in the unit trained the horse to pack the big gun and nine 24-pound shells. They trained her “also to lie down when under fire, avoid barbed wire and crouch in foxholes, and to run for cover when there was incoming fire,” David Hill wrote last year in a story published on America’s Best Racing website. “
They nicknamed her “Sergeant Reckless,” which became prophetic.
“After two years of service, the commander of the 1st Marine Division was so impressed and grateful to the horse that he gave her an official battlefield promotion to the rank of (staff) sergeant,” Hill wrote. “Her fellow soldiers took the rank serious enough to threaten others with court martial for disrespecting her rank. There was a standing order that no soldier was allowed to ride on her, not only out of respect for her rank, but because she was too valuable of an asset to risk injuring.”
Sergeant Reckless toted supplies and artillery. She became an ambulance, hauling wounded soldiers out of danger — doing so on her own because they couldn’t spare a Marine to lead her.
In the 1953 Battle for Outpost Vegas, she was wounded twice yet refused to stop. Her story, featured in the Saturday Evening Post in 1954, gained her national fame. She came to the United States when the war ended, and was stabled at Camp Pendleton where she received a pair of Purple Hearts and numerous other honors. She lived out her life at Camp Pendleton, where she died in 1968.
She’s been immortalized in statues at Marine headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, another at Camp Pendleton, and a third – dedicated in 2018 – at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
Sergeants Stubby and Reckless — heroes who risked their hides for freedom.
Sources: USO; David Hill. americasbestracing.net, May 25, 2020