Tootsie Rolls are bite-size chocolate covered toffee treats. Those not from America may be familiar with the name from the 90s dance craze. These unassuming sweets have an interesting history, specifically the role they played in the Korean War, when they were credited with saving the lives of American Marines.
So how did this strange happening occur?
By November 1950 the Korean war was well underway when the People’s Volunteer Army of China entered the conflict. Coming via the north-eastern Chinese-Korean border on 27th of November, this development took US forces by surprise.
US Marines, under the command of General Edward Almond, were based in the Chosin Resevoir Area. Accompanied by UN troops, the total number of allied troops was approximately 30,000. They were soon surrounded and outnumbered by 120,000 Chinese soldiers, under the command of Song Shilu. The UN troops broke free and withdrew to Hungnam, inflicting heavy casualties on the more numerous but less well equipped and trained Chinese. This left the US Marines who were facing freezing temperatures and rough terrain as they sought to make their escape.
As the temperature hit -38°C the ground froze, roads became iced over, and crucially technology and weapons began to malfunction in these extreme temperatures. One side effect of this was that the tank fuel pipes froze over, cracking open in some places; making the US’s position more perilous. At the same time, they ran low on mortar rounds. With the situation looking dire they made a request for more mortar shells. A wait ensued as anti-aircraft equipment had been entrenched on the enemy side.
It was common at the time to use code words when making requests. Mortar rounds were code named ‘Tootsie Rolls’. After the request went through the troops waited until the US were able to make air drops. It was then that they found… Tootsie Rolls.
Actual Tootsie Roll sweets. And not the much sought-after mortar rounds.
This should have been a disaster, but some quick thinking and ingenuity saved the day. The tootsie rolls were solid lumps of chocolate toffee when they landed. The Marines soon discovered that they would melt in the mouth. If they were careful, they could soften up the sweets and put them to good use. Turning them into a sort of putty the softened tootsie rolls were then applied to the fuel pipes; acting as a seal. Surprisingly, this worked. It was so cold that the sweets then solidified around the pipes, resealing them.
With the tanks up and running again the Marines were able to attempt their escape. They took heavy causalities but made it out of the Chosin River Area. Those that survived, in part thanks to Tootsie Rolls, nicknamed themselves ‘The Chosin Few’.
This was not the first time that tootsie rolls had proved useful. They played a small part in the Second World War too. They were included in ration packs as a durable treat that would withstand all weather traditions. A fitting use for an all-American sweet.