Tootsie Rolls, the “go-to” food for marines fighting in the Korean War.

If you read accounts of the badly outnumbered U.S. Marines fighting against the Chinese near Chosin Reservoir in 1950 in the Korean War, you’ll find the troops constantly eating Tootsie Rolls.

The temperature was at least -25° and the wind and snow made conditions worse. Cans of C rations, “light” such as fruits and “heavy” such as meats were always frozen and took forever to thaw out in a pot of boiling water over a cooking fire.

“Tootsie Roll” was a code word for a 60mm mortar wound. Running out of ammo, the marines called for a parachute drop. The radio operator didn’t have a code sheet, so sent real Tootsie Rolls.

I don’t know the marines’ first reaction, but the candy (chocolate toffee) became a lifesaver. Unlike frozen cans of food, it would warm up in your mouth, staving off intense hunger and providing energy. It also turned out that a Toosie Roll would plug up a bullet wound in weather so cold that the blood from wounds tended to freeze. The candy, when warmed up in one’s mouth would also work like caulk and patch up leaking fuel lines.

I haven’t eaten a Tootsie Roll in years but had them often as a kid. I wish I’d been able to tell my folks that the candy was “Marine approved.” Of course, I wasn’t doing Korean War research for the novel in progress then, but it seems like the kind of fact that would be mentioned in history class.