Stories From the Front Lines

There’s nothing quite like old war stories. Sitting around listening to your grandparents talking about life in the trenches is a memory most people have. But what are the chances that, when they were invented in 1896, Tootsie Rolls ever expected to become part of those stories?

That’s exactly what happened during The Korean War. Believe it or not, Tootsie Rolls saved the lives of American troops during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.

Battle of the Chosin Reservoir

Chosin Reservoir

Patriotic Tootsie Rolls by Brandon Burke via Flickr

Troops were stationed at Chang Jin mountain reservoir. The Americans there had taken to calling it the Chosin Reservoir. As you might expect, the conditions left a lot to be desired.

The reservoir temperatures ranged from minus five degrees in the day to minus 25 at night. Everything froze. Food rations were difficult to impossible to warm up, and the artillery shells weren’t going off with any regularity.

The 15,000 troops were facing off against a division of 120,000 men. Strongly outnumbered, outgunned, and undersupplied, the troops weren’t sure what to do next.

One thing was clear—if they didn’t get a supply drop, they were goners. Nearly out of mortar shells, the troops called for an airdrop using the code name they’d established for artillery: Tootsie Rolls.

To their surprise, when the airdrop arrived, it was filled not with ammunition, but with actual Tootsie Rolls!

The Tootsie Roll Mix Up

Chosin Reservoir

1918 Tootsie Roll Advertisement

The chocolate flavored candies froze in the inhuman temperatures, but the great thing about Tootsie Rolls is that they’re edible even when they’re frozen.

The sugar boost turned out to be just the jolt the troops needed. Realizing that when the candy was warmed up, it became a kind of putty, the troops were hit with a brilliant idea. The chewed-up Tootsie Rolls would become pliable when warm, but they would quickly freeze again when exposed to the freezing wind.

The soldiers started using the putty-like-substance to patch bullet holes in vehicles, hoses, and other equipment. 

With their equipment fixed, the men collected their injured and frostbitten comrades, punched a hole through the enemy lines, and retreated to safety. The men who survived the battle started calling themselves the “Chosin Few” in commemoration of this once in a lifetime experience.