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​Tootsie Rolls, The Candy That Saved the Marines

All About Food | December 15th, 2021

By Loey Schaefer

loeyanns@outlook.com

Beginning in WWII, Tootsie Rolls were added to field rations because the Candy would hold up in a variety of weather conditions. Thus, this story begins…

In November 1950, during the Korean War, the First Marine Division (10,000 Marines) with elements of two Regimental Combat Teams of the U.S. Army, a Detachment of British Commandos, and some South Korean policemen – for a total of about 15,000 men – faced the Chinese Communist Army’s ten divisions totaling 120,000 men.

At a mountain reservoir called Chang Jin (the Marines called it “Chosin”), temperatures ranged from five degrees below zero during the day to 50 degrees below zero at night. The ground froze so hard that bulldozers could not dig emplacements for artillery. The cold impeded the artillery and automatic weapons as well as numbing the minds of the men and freezing their fingers and toes. Jeep batteries froze and split, C-rations ran dangerously low and were frozen solid, and fuel could not be spared to thaw them. If truck engines stopped, their fuel lines froze. Medical corpsmen had to thaw morphine syrettes in their mouths before they could inject them. Precious bottles of blood plasma were frozen and useless. Resupply could only come by air and that was spotty and erratic because of the foul weather and the danger imposed by enemy anti-aircraft artillery.

They were 78 miles from the sea, surrounded, supplies low, facing an enemy whose sole objective was the annihilation of the First Marine Division as a warning to other United Nations troops. High command believed the situation was hopeless, but “retreat” was not an option through the wall of Chinese troops. If the Marines defended, they would be wiped out. So they formed a 22-mile-long column and attacked. Because of the terrain, the Marines 60mm mortars became perhaps the most valuable weapon the Marines had, but their supply of 60mm mortar rounds was quickly depleted.

After two days, all the rounds were gone, and they had to risk a supply drop by air despite all the enemy anti-aircraft artillery emplacements. Emergency requests for resupply were sent by radio using code words for specific items. “Tootsie Rolls” was the code for 60mm mortar rounds. However, the radio operator receiving the urgent request did not have the Marine’s code sheets, and instead took the request literally and sent hundreds of crates of Tootsie Roll candies. After initial shocked reactions, the freezing, starving troops rejoiced. Frozen Tootsie Roll were thawed in armpits and mouths, and their sugar provided instant nourishment and energy that enabled them to keep fighting. For many, Tootsie Rolls were their only nourishment for days! The Marines soon learned they could use the thawed Tootsie Rolls as kind of a putty to plug bullet holes in fuel drums, and jeep gas tanks, radiators and fuel lines; sealing the hole as the candy refroze in the cold.

Over two weeks of unspeakable misery, movement, and murderous fighting, the 15,000-man column suffered 3,000 killed in action, 6,000 wounded and thousands of severe frostbite cases. The road through the Chosin Reservoir was lined with thousands of Tootsie Roll wrappers. They reached the sea, demolishing several divisions in the process. Hundreds credited their very survival to the Tootsie Rolls. Surviving Marines called themselves “The Chosin Few,” and among the Leathernecks another name: The Tootsie Roll Marines.

According to one surviving Marine, “Ask any man who served at the Chosin, to be good a Tootsie Roll must be frozen!” Whenever “The Chosin Few” hold their reunions, the Tootsie Roll Company sends them cases of Tootsie Rolls.

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Editor’s note: Lois Schaefer is State Americanism Chairman, Department of North Dakota VFW Auxiliary.

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