In LIFE Magazine’s “Celebrating Our Heroes,” listed alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, is a small Mongolian mare named Reckless, who became the greatest war hero horse in American history.
On October 26, 1952 Lt Eric Pedersen purchased Reckless for $250 from a young Korean man who sold his beloved mare to buy an artificial leg for his sister who lost hers in a land mine accident.
During the pivotal Battle for Outpost Vegas in March 1953, on one day alone, Reckless made 51 round-trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites, most of the time by herself. She carried 386 rounds of 75mm recoilless rifle ammunition (over 9,000 lbs) and walked over 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep mountains with enemy fire exploding at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. Wounded twice, she never stopped. She even shielded Marines going up to the line, and helped carry the wounded to safety. There’s no telling how many lives she helped save.
Reckless’s actions during the Korean War got her officially promoted to the rank of Staff Sergeant by the Commandant of the US Marine Corps, a rank never before or since bestowed upon an animal.
After the war, she was brought to America and lived out her days at MCB Camp Pendleton until her death in 1968.
Five national monuments have been dedicated to SSgt Reckless since 2013. They are at the National Museum of the Marine Corps (Quantico, VA); MCB Camp Pendleton (Oceanside, CA); Kentucky Horse Park (Lexington, KY); a farm in Barrington Hills, IL; and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame (Ft. Worth TX). In 2020, one will be placed at the World Equestrian Center (Ocala, FL), and then hopefully South Korea.
On July 27, 2016, Reckless became the fourth horse and 68th recipient of the PDSA Dickin Medal.
Two Purple Hearts * Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal * Presidential Unit Citation * Navy Unit Commendation * National Defense Service Medal * United Nations Service Medal—Korea * Korean Service Medal w/ 3 Stars * Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation * PDSA Dickin Medal * Ambassador for Peace Medal
She wasn’t a horse - She was a Marine!
Cher Ami (“Dear Friend”) is one of America’s most famous fliers. She was actually a British bird, registered with the National Union of Racing Pigeons (NURP 18 EAD 615) and trained by American expert pigeoneers.
Cher Ami was attached to the U.S. 77th Infantry Division, which fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, part of the final Allied offensive of the war, in early October 1918. The operation, with 1.2 million American soldiers, was the largest offensive in U.S. military history, and it is second only to the Battle of Normandy (D-Day) as the deadliest foreign battle (26,277 Americans killed).
Before the Meuse-Argonne, Cher Ami had flown twelve missions from the front lines at Verdun to her loft at Rampont, averaging eighteen miles in twenty-four minutes.
But on October 4, 1918, Cher Ami would take to the air carrying her most important message. She was serving that day with the First Battalion of the 308th Infantry Regiment. The unit was also known as the “Lost Battalion.” The battalion had broken through enemy lines only to be pinned down by German forces near Grandpre in the Ardennes. Inaccurate coordinates of the battalion’s position resulted in the unit being shelled by friendly fire from its own artillery.
Two pigeons were released and quickly shot dead. Only Cher Ami remained. As soon as she was released, Cher Ami, too was immediately shot down. Yet, amazingly, she was able to pick herself up and fly twenty-five miles in as many minutes to Allied headquarters. On arrival she was found to have been shot in the breast. Her right leg, which carried the capsule bearing the critical message, had also been hit; it was hanging by a tendon.
Thanks to Cher Ami’s success, the shelling stopped, and the men eventually fought their way to safety. Of 554 members of the “Lost Battalion,” 194 walked away relatively unharmed.
Heralded a heroine on arrival in the U.S., Cher Ami was presented the Croix de Guerre with Palm, France’s prestigious medal for heroism and bravery in combat.
Today, Cher Ami can be found on display at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C..
Chips is arguably the highest decorated dog in American history. He received the Silver Star and a Purple Heart for his heroics (yet, sadly, these were later revoked).
Donated to the Army by the Wren family in August 1942, Chips, a Collie-Shepherd-husky mix, gave tireless service to the US Army and coalition partners from November 1942 to September 1945.
On November 8, 1942 Chips saw action as part of ‘Operation Torch’, the North African amphibious invasion that landed under fire near Casablanca. His role was to accompany patrols, some of which were under enemy fire, and carry out scouting duties behind enemy lines with his handler. He then went on to serve as a sentry dog for the Roosevelt-Churchill Casablanca Conference in January 14-24,1943. He patrolled the area every night. During this period, Chips met with both President Franklin D Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
But it was on July 10, 1943 where Chips made his mark and became the first American dog hero of the War. It was during the invasion of Sicily as part of “Operation Husky,” one of the largest combined operations of the war. As he was led ashore under cover of darkness, the platoon was attacked on the beach by an enemy machine-gun nest in a nearby hut. As the platoon dove for cover, Chips broke free from his handler and charged the hut. Shots rang out.
Inside the hut, Chips had grabbed the machine gun by the barrel and pulled it off its mount. He then grabbed the gunner by the throat and dragged him out. Three other Italians surrendered for fear of their lives. Chips’ actions undoubtedly saved the lives of the men in his platoon. Chips sustained a scalp wound and powder burns during the incident, and required treatment for his injuries. Later that night, Chips’ alertness and keen sense of smell also led to the capture of ten Italian soldiers trying to infiltrate the camp. For all this, he was awarded the Silver Star.
After the war, Chips returned to New York to resume life with the Wren family.
On January 15, 2018, on the 75th anniversary of when he guarded Roosevelt and Churchill, Chips became the 70th recipient and 20th dog of the World War II era to receive the PDSA Dickin Medal.
Joe was a blue checker cock hailing from the exotic land of the celebrated Casbah. Hatched in Algiers on March 24, 1943, he was merely five weeks old when American forces took him to the Tunisian front, yet he was too young to be used on many missions at the time.
After the Tunisia campaign, Joe was moved first to Bizerte, Tunisia, then joined his unit on the Italian Front on October 6, 1943. A dozen days later, GI Joe made a name for himself.
On October 18, 1943, the British 56th (London) Infantry Division had made a request for air support to aid in the breaking of the German defense line at the heavily fortified village of Colvi Vecchia, Italy. But when the Germans suddenly retreated before the town was scheduled to be bombed, events took a dangerous turn.
The British 169th Infantry Brigade, of the 56th Infantry Division, had captured the village of Colvi Vecchia at 10:45 hours just a few minutes before a unit of the Allied XII Air Support Command was due to bomb the town. The now ill-time bombing mission was scheduled for 11:10 that morning. Radio attempts had failed to get the word out to cancel the attack. With time running out and the situation increasingly desperate, GI Joe was dispatched with the vital message to abort the bombing.
Joe flew twenty miles—from the British 10th Corps Headquarters to U.S. Air Support Command base—in just twenty minutes. The message arrived just as the bombers were on the tarmac, about to take off on the mission. Joe saved the lives of at least one hundred Allied soldiers that day. “Had the message arrived five minutes later,” the recommendation for GI Joe’s Dickin Medal reads, “it might have been a completely different story.”
After the war, GI Joe returned home a bona fide hero. He was housed at the Churchill Loft, also known as the U.S. Army’s “Hall of Fame” at Fort Monmouth, along with twenty-four other pigeon heroes.
In August 1946, GI Joe was named the fortieth recipient of the Dickin Medal. He was the first - and only - American recipient of this prestigious medal during World War II - a distinction he held for fifty-five years.
When the Churchill Loft closed in March 1957, GI Joe and some of his friends found a new home at the Detroit Zoological Gardens, where he lived out his days until his passing on June 3, 1961 at age eighteen.
GI Joe was stuffed and mounted and is stored at the new U.S. Army Museum in Ft. Belvoir, VA. He was brought out of storage and attended the Medal of Bravery ceremony.
Ron Aiello served in Vietnam with Stormy, a female German Shepherd, from 1966 to 1967 as one of the first thirty Marine Scout Dog Teams to be deployed to Vietnam. Trained to find explosives, weapons, humans, and booby traps, Stormy led daytime and nighttime patrols to protect troops from ambushes—sometimes on nights so dark, Ron would only know if Stormy was alerting by the leash going slack.
In May 1966, Ron and Stormy were on their very first patrol, leading an inspection of two villages. Stormy walked ahead with the other Marines following at a distance. As they reached a clearing, Stormy suddenly stopped. Ron bent down on his knee and asked, “What do you see, girl?” Just then, a sniper bullet buzzed over his head.
“A Marine walking into that clearing without her would have been killed,” Ron says. “She picked up a sound of a twig breaking or a safety being released and alerted to it—she saved my life.”
Though they went on many missions together, one still stands out.
Ron and Stormy, along with another dog team and their bodyguards, were assigned to scout an area hoping to flush the enemy into a trap. About an hour into the mission, Stormy alerted. Just then a machete-weilding female enemy soldier leaped up from her hiding position, screamed and charged Ron and Stormy. Ron shot her in the arm, but she wasn’t deterred. Stormy then charged her, lunged and hit her hard on the side of her body - knocking her down and sending her machete flying. The bodyguard knocked the woman out with the butt of his M14. She was taken prisoner.
Once they settled down, the mission continued. After several more alerts from Stormy, their search led them to find a tunnel. When the entrances and exits were discovered, the tunnel was destroyed. The mission was over.
When they reached camp, they learned that the dogs’ alerts throughout the mission caused a group of enemy soldiers to retreat right into the hands of the Marines. Not a shot was fired during the capture, and Ron and Stormy, along with the other dog team, were officially credited as the primary reason for the captured enemy soldiers.
Stormy was a beloved member of the team. As Ron notes, "She was really a therapy dog for all of us. I honestly believe if I'd been there without Stormy I'd be a different person today. We had a great friendship."
(Excerpted from "A Soldier's Best Friend," by John C. Burnam)
Lucca was a German Shepherd/Belgian Malnois mix born in the Netherlands. The Israel Defense Forces brought her to Israel where she trained for six months with an American team. She was then inducted at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX and there she was paired with her handler, GnySgt Chris Willingham.
Lucca served in the Marine Corps for six years as a Specialized Search Dog. She belonged to an elite group of canines capable of working off-leash at long distances from their handlers in dangerous situations. She was trained to search open areas, road ways, building and vehicles for explosives.
Lucca deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan where she led over 400 patrols. She was credited with finding ammunition, explosives and insurgents at least 40 times, which resulted in zero casualties. On March 23rd, 2012, Lucca sniffed out a 30-pound IED and was continuing her search when she lost one of her legs when another IED detonated underneath her. Cpl. Juan Rodriguez, her handler at the time, thought she had been killed, but was able to rescue her. He administered first aid, and Lucca was then airlifted to Germany for medical treatment and rehabilitation. After recovering at Camp Pendleton, CA, Lucca officially retired in 2012 and was adopted by her original handler, GnySgt Chris Willingham.
In her six years of retirement, Lucca served as an Ambassador to the Military Working Dog community. Along with her GnySgt Willingham, they visited wounded veterans at Walter Reed, conducted community outreach at various schools and volunteered for Non-Profits who directly benefit wounded veterans and families of the fallen.
On April 5, 2016, Lucca was awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal. She was the 67th recipient, and the first US Marine Corps dog awarded this honor. Lucca also received an unofficial Purple Heart plaque and ribbons from a two-time Marine recipient of the award.
Lucca died on January 20, 2018.
In March of 2017, Fire Marshal Joe DiGiacomo was matched up with an approximately 5-year-old rescue dog, a Black Labrador retriever mix, from the Saratoga Animal Shelter. The pup was soon given the name Bucca, after Fire Marshal Ronald Bucca who made the Supreme Sacrifice on September 11th, 2001. Ronnie was a distinguished U.S. Army veteran in the Special Forces “Green Beret” and a Jump Master. He was also a decorated fireman within the FDNY and served with the Special Operation Command in Rescue 1.
Bucca had a troubled beginning with training. This included having to deal with an abusive past, minor health issues, and trust issues. However, after 10 weeks of training, 6 days a week, 12- 14-hour days on average, that included 276 searches, burned-out structures, familiarization with maritime vessels and helicopters, and working in extreme cold and heat, Bucca overcame those tremendous odds and graduated from his training. He now serves with the largest and busiest fire department in the United States, and some may argue the world. The FDNY Bureau of Fire Investigations responds to and investigates over 10,000 fires per year within the City of New York.
From the beginning, K-9 Bucca was thrown into the mix responding to fire investigations throughout the 5 boroughs of NYC. Arson is a unique criminal offense, since it is very rarely a crime preformed by itself. Most arsons are committed to cover up other crimes, such domestic abuse; insurance fraud; assaults; religious and bias hate crimes; and homicides. K-9 Bucca has responded to and worked with the Bureau of Fire investigations on all these crimes in the over 500 responses since May 2017. Notably in November of 2017, K-9 Bucca’s positive indications at a fire scene lead to the confession and arrest of a suspect in a double fatal fire in Brooklyn N.Y.
K-9 Bucca has worked over 100 fires in the City which resulted in an arrest. This includes 29 Homicides and 5 Hate Crimes.
Bucca has led by example. In May of this year, Bucca became the number one dog in the country for Accelerant Detection at the United States Police Canine Association’s 2019 National Detector Dog Trials in Albany, New York. Over 100 teams ran through a battery of tests, and the dogs and their handlers were judged on a number of objectives, including accuracy, speed, and how the officer handled the dog. Bucca and Joe came through with flying colors, and were awarded “Top Dog.”
Multi-Purpose Canine (MPC) Bass is a Belgian Malinois who served at Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command (MARSOC) for the past 6 and a half years. It takes an exceptional animal to become a Multi-Purpose Canine for a Special Operations Command. All MPCs must be able to detect explosive materials, perform team protection through controlled aggression, and track the movement of a person or group with their nose. Bass is no exception. Bass was born in the Netherlands and purchased from a vendor in Indiana.
Bass was selected by MARSOC and assigned to a Marine who deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. Upon Bass’ arrival back to the United States, he was reassigned and paired up with SSgt Schnell in December 2014.
Bass and SSgt Schnell began their training together to prepare for their first deployment. In January 2016 Bass and SSgt Schnell deployed to Iraq with 2D Marine Raider Battalion. During his deployment Bass conducted over 350 explosive detection searches for force protection of his Marine Special Operations Team.
After returning to the states in July 2016, Bass and SSgt Schnell began to prepare for their next deployment together. They were reassigned to 3D Marine Raider Battalion and deployed to Somalia in October 2017. During their time in East Africa they conducted 12 named operations for high value individuals. The Special Operations team relied heavily on Bass during each mission for his explosive detection and personnel apprehension capabilities.
Bass and SSgt Schnell returned home after another successful deployment in April 2018. After a short break and some advanced training, Bass and SSgt Schnell were attached to 2D Marine Raider Battalion, again, and deployed to Afghanistan in February of 2019.
During their deployment, the Marine Special Operations Team conducted 34 helicopter assault raids for high value individuals. Bass was used to conduct explosive sweeps in areas with a high threat for Improvised Explosive Devices, provide force protection at the camp where the Marines lived, and even lead the assault force during dangerous building clears.
Bass led Marines during four deployments in three countries. Through all of Bass’ time overseas he never had a Marine fatality during his watch. Bass is now retired from active duty and lives with SSgt Schnell.