The 68th Anniversary of the Korean War
The "Chosin Few"...The
Tootsie Roll Marines
November 26, 1950, 10,000 men of the First Marine Division, along with
elements of two Army regimental combat teams, a detachment of British Royal
Marine commandos and some South Korean policemen were completely surrounded by
over ten divisions of Chinese troops in rugged mountains near the Chosin
Reservoir. Chairman Mao himself had ordered the Marines annihilated, and Chinese
General Song Shi-Lun gave it his best shot, throwing human waves of his 120,000
soldiers against the heavily outnumbered allied forces. A massive cold
front blew in from
batteries froze and split. C-rations ran dangerously low and the cans were
frozen solid. Fuel could not be spared to thaw them. If truck engines
stopped, their fuel lines froze. Automatic weapons wouldn't cycle. Morphine
syrettes had to be thawed in a medical corpsman's mouth before they could
be injected. 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.
Command virtually wrote them off, believing their situation was hopeless.
Chinese used the ravines between ridges, protected from rifle fire, to
marshal their forces between attacks. The Marines' 60-millimeter mortars,
capable of delivering high, arcing fire over the ridgelines, breaking up
those human waves, became perhaps the most valuable weapon the Marines had.
But their supply of mortar rounds was quickly depleted. Emergency requests
for resupply were sent by radio, using code words for specific items. The
code for 60mm mortar ammo was "Tootsie Rolls" but the radio
operator receiving that urgent request didn't have the Marines' code sheets. All
he knew was that the request came from command authority, it was extremely
urgent and there were tons of Tootsie Rolls at supply bases in
Rolls had been issued with other rations to US troops since World War I,
earning preferred status because they held up so well to heat, cold and
rough handling compared to other candies.
through the clouds and fog, parachutes bearing pallet-loads of Tootsie
Rolls descended on the Marines. After initial shocked reactions, the
freezing, starving troops rejoiced. Frozen Tootsies were thawed in armpits,
popped in mouths, and their sugar provided instant energy. For many,
Tootsie Rolls were their only nourishment for days. The troops also
learned they could use warmed Tootsie Rolls to plug bullet holes in fuel drums,
gas tanks, cans and radiators, where they would freeze solid again, sealing the
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. But they reached the sea, demolishing several
Chinese divisions in the process. Hundreds credited their very survival to
Tootsie Rolls. Surviving Marines called themselves "The Chosin
Few," and among themselves, another name: The Tootsie Roll Marines. Join me
in sharing their story and some Tootsie Rolls.