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.


‘The Last Stand of Fox Company’ by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin

I’m fairly sure I’ve read all of Jeff Shaara’s novels from his two novels about Gettysburg up to his novel about the Korean War The Frozen Hours. Before I read it, I had already included a backstory about two characters in my Florida Folk Magic Series that included service in the 1st Marine Division in Korea. Since my work in progress, Pollyanna Hoskins includes these characters, I’ve placed one of them with Fox Company tasked with guarding a strategic pass.

Here we have 234 marines holding off 10,000 Chinese soldiers. This is mentioned, of course, in Shaara’s book that covers the entire war. I wanted more specific information about the brave and determined men of Fox Company. There’s plenty of information online, but The Last Stand of Fox Company is very specific about Captain Barber’s three platoons and how they faired day by day against a vastly superior force in a harsh Korean winter when the temperatures were -34 °. While water and food and feet were frozen, the low temperatures saved some of the wounded whose wounds were frozen, keeping them from bleeding to death.

The entire campaign around the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea is called “frozen Chosin” for a reason.

Using the terminology of the day, my character is still “shook” in his life in the years after the war. “Shook” meant “to go mental,” later described as shell shock and then PTSD.  After reading the account of Fox Company’s defense of a major road at Toktong Pass, I’d expect all of them, the few left standing to be shook.

From the Publisher

November 1950, the Korean Peninsula: After General MacArthur ignores Mao’s warnings and pushes his UN forces deep into North Korea, his 10,000 First Division Marines find themselves surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered by 100,000 Chinese soldiers near the Chosin Reservoir. Their only chance for survival is to fight their way south through the Toktong Pass, a narrow gorge that will need to be held open at all costs. The mission is handed to Captain William Barber and the 234 Marines of Fox Company, a courageous but undermanned unit of the First Marines. Barber and his men climb seven miles of frozen terrain to a rocky promontory overlooking the pass, where they will endure four days and five nights of nearly continuous Chinese attempts to take Fox Hill. Amid the relentless violence, three-quarters of Fox’s Marines are killed, wounded, or captured. Just when it looks like they will be overrun, Lt. Colonel Raymond Davis, a fearless Marine officer who is fighting south from Chosin, volunteers to lead a daring mission that will seek to cut a hole in the Chinese lines and relieve the men of Fox. This is a fast-paced and gripping account of heroism in the face of impossible odds.

When I was in elementary school, I saw many headlines in the daily papers about the Korean War. Needless to say, I didn’t understand the big picture. But the war has fascinated me in part because it’s more or less forgotten. But, it occurred just a few years before my novel-in-progress Pollyanna Hoskins is set. So, one way I’m adding depth to my novel is by including characters who were in Korea, the man as a marine corporal, and the woman (Pollyanna) as a marine nurse serving in MASH units and field hospitals.

The title of Jeff Shaara’s book comes from a poem by one of the marines on Fox Hill:

The long nights. Too long.
Time stops, frozen in place.
I beg the frozen hours for the
Too many many memories 
Ice and Death
I’m ready to join my friends.

And so, I can’t help but include bits and pieces of this war, partly because the heroism there has been mostly forgotten and partly because it’s a major factor in the world where my characters lived in the early 1950s.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the Vietnam War Novel “At Sea.”

I’m pleased when a Google book search leads me to an independent bookstore

When I’m doing online research and see a footnote for a relevant book, I tend to first search for that title on Google because I’m lazy. It takes fewer keystrokes to do that than to go to Amazon or B&N and search for the title there. I often find the book at an independent bookstore that provides online ordering.

Yesterday, I was looking for this book because I refer to the battle multiple times in my novel in progress. General McArthur, wanting the glory of saying his troops pissed in and/or drank out of the Yalu River between North Korea and China, sent his troops north, ignoring the intel that his marines were marching into a trap near the Chosin Reservoir.

His marines were badly outnumbered, especially Fox Company which was guarding a strategic pass. The battle of Fox company is one of the most heroic in marine corps history in a war most of us have forgotten.

So a Google search on the title leads me to a copy available at the Whistlestop Bookshop an independent bookseller in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  With a few keystrokes, I ordered the book, pleased to be buying it from somebody other than Amazon. Good, I had the book on order without buying it from that near-monopoly that offers everything from A to Z.

Looking at the ABOUT US page, I know that if I lived in Carlisle. I would go to that store:

Whistlestop Bookshop opened in Gettysburg in August 1985 at 11 West Railroad St, right across from the Lincoln Diner.  A quick two-and-a-half years later, in January 1988, we opened a second store in Carlisle at 152 West High Street, next door to Back Door Cafe and the Bosler Memorial Library. 

Eventually, both stores moved to larger quarters.  Whistlestop Gettysburg moved to 104 Carlisle Street.  We closed it at the end of July 2004, after 19 years. 

But, I don’t live there. No problem. They have an online presence I can use when looking for books in addition to Powell’s, IndieBound, and I see no reason to automatically head to Amazon because there are alternatives. A lot of people I know gripe about Amazon, but when they want a book, that’s where they go. I don’t quite understand that, especially when there’s a bookstore in the town where they live where they can BUY LOCAL.

Within a few days, I’ll be reading about “frozen Chosin,” as the marines called it.


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.