Tootsie Roll Marines

From Sgt Major Lamar…

On November 26, 1950,  ten thousand 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 Siberia, and with it, the  coldest winter in recorded Korean history For the encircled allies at the Chosin  Reservoir, daytime temperatures averaged five degrees below zero, while  nights plunged to minus 35 and lower.

Jeep 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.

High command virtually wrote them off, believing their situation was  hopeless. Washington braced for imminent news of slaughter and defeat. Retreat was hardly an option; not through that wall of Chinese troops. If the Marines defended, they would be wiped out so they formed a 12-mile long column and attacked.

There were 78 miles of narrow, crumbling, steeply-angled road and 100,000 Chinese soldiers between the Marines and the sea at Hungnam. Both sides  fought savagely for every inch of it. The march out became one monstrous, moving battle.

The 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 Japan.

Tootsie 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.

Tearing 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 leaks.

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. 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