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.


Korean War – all but forgotten

If it weren’t for the insane antics of North Korea’s “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un, we would probably never remember that a war–that’s technically not over–divided up the country. I remember the war because it was in the news when I was a child. Little to nothing was said about the war in my history survey courses other than President Truman firing General MacArthur in April 1951.

Even now, I think most viewers of “M*A*S*H” reruns assume the TV show was set in Vietnam even though the co-authored novel by a M*A*S*H surgeon (under a pseudonym) was based on this wartime experiences in the Korean War.

I research the war from time to time because characters in my novel Fate’s Arrows and in my short story “The Smoky Hollow Blues” (in the recently released Thomas-Jacob anthology The Things We Write) served in Korea. The novel in progress has these same characters, so I find myself wanting to know more about the near-disaster for the U.S. Marines at Chosin Reservoir in 1950.

You can learn about this battle online on more sites than Wikipedia, and they give a decent overview of the battle. Yet I feel it’s through the lens of somebody watching it from outer space. I can’t afford to buy books about the war just to fill in background information about my characters. Fortunately, I have most of Jeff Shaara’s historical novels including The Frozen Hours about Korea. The novel brings me a close-in view of what it was like to be fighting a superior-in-size Chinese force in sub-zero temperatures where weapons malfunctioned and frostbite was a killer.

I bought the book before I knew I would ever use it as a reference. I like Shaara’s work and probably have most of his novels on my shelf. As an author, I go everywhere I can for background information, and sometimes historical fiction works out very well.