This Memorial Day we seem to be living in very different world than the one we have grown accustomed to. What is that old saying? “This too shall pass?” And no doubt it will, but it never seems that way when you are caught up in the middle of strange and frightening times.
Yet, imagine those caught up in a war, whether at home or abroad, not knowing the outcome, trying to survive, have some sort of normalcy in what appeared to be a world gone mad. Wondering if they would ever see loved ones again. Losing loved ones. Welcoming home the maimed.
We have always honored and remembered horses of war and their priceless contributions, especially on Memorial Day. We do so again. But first a short, sweet poem.
Remember those who served before. Remember those who are no more. Remember those who serve today. Remember them as we eat and play. Remember our protectors — who are not home today. Remember them all on Memorial Day.
Originally known as Decoration Day, Memorial Day originated in the years following the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
Here are some of the way horses have been used in wars and conflicts. Millions upon millions have died for it. They didn’t give their lives. The lives were taken.
American Civil War
More than 1,000,000 horses and mules were killed during the U.S. Civil War. In the early days of the conflict, more horses than men were killed. Just at the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg alone, the number of horses killed was about 1,500—881 horses and mules for the Union, and 619 for the Confederacy.
Eric J. Wittenberg, the award-winning Civil War historian, writes:
During the era of the Civil War, 1861-1865, there were no internal combustion engines fueled by gasoline, so there were only three ways to transport men, equipment and supplies: by boat, by train, or by horse. Horses were the primary means for logistics. Horses were used by artillery, by cavalry, by infantry, and by teamsters to move men and equipment. Read more »
Horses and mules provided the overwhelming majority of the power used to move men and machines – the true “horsepower” of the war effort. They served in a wide variety of roles, including being ridden, as draft animals pulling vehicles and guns, and as pack animals.
Horses were in demand during the First World War. Britain responded to this shortage by obtaining its horses by importing them from America and New Zealand with as many as 1,000,000 coming from America. This costs Britain 67.5 million pounds. Germany had a more elaborate system before the war. They had set up sponsored horse-breeding programmes in anticipation of the war. Their horses were registered every year, just like army reservists.
The Central Powers, unlike the Allies, were unable to import horses from overseas and as a result, led to their defeat through paralyses artillery battalions and supply lines.
During the war, many horses died because of exhaustion, drowning, becoming mired in mud and falling into shell holes. In some cases, riders were killed and their horses captured. Horses were sometimes fed and cared for poorly, poison gas attacks injured their respiratory systems and skin, and skin conditions such as mange were common. The invention of improvised nose plugs, however, served to help horses in the event of a gas attack. Improved gas masks were later on created by both the central and Allied nations, although most of the horses destroyed them mistaking them for feed bags. Read more »
In 1917, when more than 94,000 horses were sent from North America to Europe and 3,300 were lost at sea. Around 2,700 of these horses died when submarines and other warships sank their vessels.
Eight million horses and countless mules and donkeys died in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front and many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire but also in terrible weather and appalling conditions.
World War II was the first highly mechanized war, and the most vivid images of the war include tanks, long convoys of trucks and jeeps, masses of bombers flying over. But there were still large numbers of horses and mules employed as cavalry, field artillery draft animals, and in supply trains. The United States was the most fully mechanized, but even the U.S. used animals throughout the war.
When mobilization for World War II began in 1939, it was predicted that the Army would need 200,000 horses. In 1940, mechanization of the Army was well under way, but the Army still had two horse cavalry divisions (the 1st and the 2d), two horse-drawn artillery regiments, and two mixed horse and motor transport regiments, with a total authorization of 16,800 horses and 3,500 mules. Read more »
By 1939 the German Reich possessed 3,800,000 horses while 885,000 were initially called to the Wehrmacht as saddle, draft, and pack animals. Of these, 435,000 horses were captured from the USSR, France, and Poland. Additional horses were purchased from Hungary, Romania, Czechoslovakia, and Ireland.
Nearly 3 million horses and mules were used by the Germans During World War II. Of these an estimated 750,000 were killed.
The German Army entered World War II with 514,000 horses, and over the course of the war employed, in total, 2.75 million horses and mules; the average number of horses in the Army reached 1.1 million.
Though the US army dispensed with horses by 1943 the Nazis embraced them, employing 2.7 million during the Second World War. Almost two-thirds were killed or wounded.
Still, it is estimated 1.75 million horses were killed during World War II, although it could be as high as 2 million. Another report says the death count may be as high as 5 million.
Hitler and Lipizzaner Horses
The following is a fascinating side story to World War II an horses. We found it in the New York Post, August 20, 2016:
The valuable Lipizzaner horses — snow-white and blue-black, many of them Olympic dressage champions — had been stolen from the countries that the Nazis occupied during the war. In addition to gold, jewelry and artwork, the Nazis seized the valuable horses from Poland, Yugoslavia, Italy and Austria.
The Nazis’ goal, according to author Elizabeth Letts in her new book “The Perfect Horse” (Ballantine), was to breed the Lipizzaner with German horses in order to create an equine specimen that was worthy of the German master race.
Horses were central to the Nazi propaganda effort, and Hitler was often shown as “the man who put Germany back in the saddle,” according to Letts. In fact, as soon as he ordered the invasion of Poland in September 1939 and unleashed the grisly chain of events that plunged the world into war, Hitler had important plans for the country’s horses. As Letts writes, “In the blueprint forged for its occupation, a plan was put into place for the ‘rebuilding of Poland’s horse-breeding industry’ for the ‘interest of the German nation.’ ”
We found more, this time in an English newspaper.
Just as Hitler wanted to eliminate ‘impure’ human strains so Rau planned to use selective breeding to erase the individual differences characterising the several strains of Lipizzaner that had emerged and replace them with a single mould: pure, imperial and ideally suited to military use.
Staff Sergeant Reckless (c. 1948 – May 13, 1968), a decorated war horse who held official rank in the United States military, was a mare of Mongolian horse breeding.
Out of a race horse dam, she was purchased in October 1952 for $250 from a Korean stableboy at the Seoul racetrack who needed money to buy an artificial leg for his sister.
Reckless was bought by members of the United States Marine Corps and trained to be a pack horse for the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
She quickly became part of the unit and was allowed to roam freely through camp, entering the Marines’ tents, where she would sleep on cold nights, and was known for her willingness to eat nearly anything, including scrambled eggs, beer, Coca-Cola and, once, about $30 worth of poker chips.
Reckless served in numerous combat actions during the Korean War, carrying supplies and ammunition, and was also used to evacuate wounded. Learning each supply route after only a couple of trips, she often traveled to deliver supplies to the troops on her own, without benefit of a handler. The highlight of her nine-month military career came in late March 1953 during the Battle for Outpost Vegas when, in a single day, she made 51 solo trips to resupply multiple front line units.
She was wounded in combat twice, given the battlefield rank of corporal in 1953, and then a battlefield promotion to sergeant in 1954, several months after the war ended.
Reckless also became the first horse in the Marine Corps known to have participated in an amphibious landing, and following the war was awarded two Purple Hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, was included in her unit’s Presidential Unit Citations from two countries, as well as other military honors. Read more at Wikipedia »
MEMORIAL DAY — Millions, yes millions, of horses have died in human wars. Their lives were taken, not given. We have written about horses on Memorial Day. Talked about one of the most famous U.S, war horses, the wonder mare Sgt. Reckless.
This year we thought we would pay a silent tribute in pictures.
Veterans Day originated as “Armistice Day” on Nov. 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I.
Congress passed a resolution in 1926 for an annual observance, and Nov. 11 became a national holiday beginning in 1938.
Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day–a common misunderstanding, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Memorial Day (the fourth Monday in May) honors American service members who died in service to their country or as a result of injuries incurred during battle.
Veterans Day pays tribute to all American veterans–living or dead–but especially gives thanks to living veterans who served their country honorably during war or peacetime. [Source]
In 2011 we discovered a little known American Veteran and great American hero, Sgt Reckless, and wrote about her.
Through the power of our modern day media, we and others spread the word and this almost forgotten hero began to receive a great deal of attention.
Who is Sgt Reckless?
Sgt. Reckless was a Korean War veteran of a different kind. She was a Marine with the 5th Marines Recoilless Rifle Co. SSgt. Reckless was wounded twice in action and went through some of the toughest campaigns of that war.” [Source]
After serving on the front lines in Korea, she was awarded two purple hearts, a Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, a Presidential Unit Citation with bronze star, the National Defense Service Medal, a Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Korea Medal, a Navy Unit Commendation, a Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation and, posthumously, was awarded the Dickin Medal.” [Source]
Sgt Reckless was an American icon at the time of the Korean War then largely forgotten. Thankfully all that has changed. Sgt Reckless is once again a much loved and celebrated American hero.
Lest we forget.
A bronze statue of Sgt Reckless was dedicated to the famous Korean War pack horse during a ceremony at the Pacific Views Event Center on October 26, 2016.
ABOUT HORSES IN WAR
More then 5,000 years have passed since man first began riding horses. For much of that time the animal, now mostly associated with sport, was involved in war and military campaigns.
Archaeological evidence confirms that the use of a bit began somewhere in what is now Russia. The invention of the wheel led to the introduction of the chariot, a vehicle that carried two men, one controlling the horse that pulled it, the other, an archer, fighting from a moving platform.
Although nervous by nature, the horse made warfare faster. A mounted warrior had a huge advantage, giving riders the element of surprise. Horses also helped in reconnaissance and in making swift getaways after attacking settlements under siege. Through sheer size and an ability to kick and trample, the animals also intimidated anyone on the ground. Greek armies made use of horses, and the first manual on horsemanship was written by a cavalry officer, Xenophon.
Trench warfare, gas attacks, barbed wire, machine guns and, from 1917 onwards, tanks would change the nature of war, but not before eight million horses, donkeys and mules had died.” Source
• Korean Name: Flame of the Morning
• Bought For: $250.00
• Became a Marine: October 26, 1952
• Highest Rank: Promoted to Staff Sgt twice, first in 1957 and second in 1959
• Height: 13.1 hands
• Weight: 750-900 lbs
• Favorite Foods: Scrambled eggs, Hershey bars and candy
• Favorite Pastime: Drinking beer with her Marines
• Retired: 1960 at Camp Pendleton
• Died: May 13, 1969. Buried at Camp Pendleton with full Military Honors