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.”

Where is Hong Kong’s Li Lai Ha Today?

In the Spring of 1969, Li Lai Ha came aboard the U.S.S. Ranger (CVA-61) compliments of the ship’s Marine Detachment (MARDET). I was there from the Public Affairs Office to take pictures.

Li Lai Ha and her Marine escorts. - Malcolm R. Campbell photo
Li Lai Ha and her grandmother with their Marine escorts. – Malcolm R. Campbell photo

A brief story of her visit appeared in the March issue of the “Shield,” Ranger’s shipboard magazine with a black and white photograph. Headlined “Girl With 61 Papas,” the story read as follows:

Li Lai Ha, a 13-year-old from Hong Kong, was adopted by Ranger’s Marine Detachment eight years ago after her escape from Red China. When Ranger visited Hong Kong last month, Lai Ha got a deluxe tour of the ship and was presented gifts of a stuffed dog, a jewelry box and a flash camera from her papas.

The photo that ran with the story shows her on the flight deck with her maternal grandmother, interpreter,  and an imposing group of marines.

Since I left the ship for shore duty that fall, I heard nothing more about her or any subsequent visits. I have often wondered whether her association with the shipboard detachment enhanced her life or was more of a brief interlude.

The Ranger is gone and the Marines no longer station detachments onboard capital ships. So, if an historical archive exists that follows up on Li Lai Ha’s 1969 visit, I have no idea where it might be.

She would be about 59  or 60 right now. I wonder if what she remembers about that day and if she still lives in Kong Hong.

How to cut a cake
How to cut a cake

At the time, I thought she was a bit overwhelmed by all the attention as well as the ride from the pier out to the carrier’s anchorage in the harbor. I was older than her and a bit overwhelmed by my visit to Hong Kong.

This is one of those memories that stayed with me and was a bit haunting.