Theodore's World: Tootsie Roll Goes To War ~ Great Story

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December 18, 2008

Tootsie Roll Goes To War ~ Great Story

On a Roll

Posted by Peggy Melanson


Tootsie rolls and pops sweeten the lives of battle-weary men

When I was a little girl, I received 25 cents as a weekly allowance. During those days, it cost one cent for a Tootsie Pop, a penny for "littles" Tootsie Rolls and five cents for "biggies."

We were Navy people. My father served during WWII in Hawaii; my big brother, Charlie, served in Korea, and my baby brother, Jerry, served during Vietnam.

Not having any real idea what "War" was all about, I used to write to daddy in my little-girl handwriting, telling him of all the things my friends and I were doing. I remember asking him to please hurry home because Dubble Bubble gum was being rationed and we had to stand in line for just one piece. Being my big strong dad, I was sure he would do something about it.

Often, I placed my pennies in a wooden matchbox to save enough to send him some candy along with my letters. Once I'd saved enough money, I would troop across the street to Pete's corner store and proudly place all my pennies on the counter and ask how many Tootsie rolls and Tootsie lollipops my coppers could buy. Taking them home, I wrote my letter and wrapped the candies in old Boston Post newspaper pages and shipped them off. I always sent his favorite yellow Tootsie pops. When I could afford it, I sent "biggies" Tootsie rolls. Many times the post office didn't charge me for stamps. Now, I realize that it was probably the counter person who paid for the postage.

When my father finally came home, he brought me a real grass hula skirt from Hawaii -- and as a reminder of my gifts to him, two yellow Tootsie roll lollipops. Following that, he regularly reminded me of those little girl gifts and how happy they made him during the war. I also sent my two brothers Tootsie Rolls and Pops when they were in the Navy. They never forgot, either.

Even now, I distribute Tootsie Roll pops to my "One Woman Comedy Show" audiences thanks to Tootsie Roll Industries. It's fun to watch adults become children again while they search the basket full of lollipops for their favorite flavor.

Tootsie Roll Industries has been a long-time friend of men and women serving their country.

History tells about a time in November, 1950, during the Korean War. The First Marine Division with part of two U.S. Army combat teams and a detachment of British Commandos along with some South Korean Policemen -- about 15,000 in all -- faced 120,000 Chinese Communists. The confrontation took place at a mountain reservoir called Chang Jin (the Americans called it "Chosin.") Temperatures ranged from minus five degrees below zero in the day to minus twenty-five below zero at night. The ground froze so hard that bulldozers could not dig emplacements for Artillery. The cold impeded weapons from firing automatically. It also numbed minds and froze fingers and toes.

The troops were surrounded, outnumbered 10 to 1 and desperately in need of food and mortars. With freezing temperatures, military-supplied rations were frozen solid and inedible.

Using the code word "Tootsie Rolls" (that meant mortars, not candy) a radioman sent a message asking for ammunition.

Misunderstanding the call, the Air Force airdropped thousands of Tootsie Rolls to the trapped men in the Chosin Reservoir.

The men were close to starvation and the chocolate Tootsie Rolls (biggies) withstood the cold and provided food and energy. Some were kept close to the men's bodies to soften them and were often used to plug holes in fuel drums, radiators and gas tanks that had been riddled with bullets after enemy attacks. Once in place, the softened Tootsie Roll froze again and made a perfect plug.

The Air Force finally caught on and sent additional mortar ammunition.

On December 10, 1950, the men fought their way out of North Korea. Overall, seventeen Medals of Honor were awarded, thirteen during the officially recognized dates of November 15 to December 10, 1950. Rarely in the annals of military history has a force been up against such unfavorable odds, both in terms of numbers and the elements, and still prevailed.

In the 1980s, Marines who survived the battle formed an organization aptly named the Chosin Few. For many years, the group held reunions and Tootsie Rolls were always present.

Over the years, the survivors formed a special relationship with the company and the candies. "We are honored to share a bond with these heroic men and will always take pride in the small role we played in this epic battle," said Melvin J. Gordon, chairman of the board of Tootsie Roll Industries. "Tootsie Roll has been involved with every major U.S. military engagement during the last century, but this is the only incident we know of in which Tootsie Rolls saved lives."

One survivor, Bob Weisham of San Diego, said, "No matter where or when we get together, the tables always have handfuls of Tootsie Rolls on them. "It probably sounds funny that such small things as Tootsie Rolls can make a difference." He added, "For us, they made all the difference."

Tootsie Roll lollipops also helped serve the men in Vietnam. Carl Jacob, a member of Delta Company 196 Light Infantry Brigade in Vietnam, sent the Tootsie Roll Company a photograph taken in 1970 depicting Jacob and several other members of his unit enjoying Tootsie Pops in the heat during some downtime.

More information about the Chosin Few and comments by other veterans whose lives have been impacted by Tootsie Rolls and Pops can be obtained on the Tootsie Roll website.

Wild Thing's comment.........

I LOVE this story!! One of my Uncles was one of the Chosin Few if only he could be alive today I would love to show him this story.

I typed this.....the chosin few with tootsie rolls.....into Google and pages and pages of stories came up. FANTASTIC to know about this. God bless our Veterans and our troops today and God bless the Tootsie Roll company too.

Ray Davis, USMC, recalls his experience with Tootsie rolls in Korea


Owing to its non-perishable quality and resistance to extreme weather conditions, the Tootsie Roll® has long been a popular military ration. Since World War II, U.S. troops stationed around the world have enjoyed Tootsie Rolls as part of their standard-issue MRE's, appreciating their great taste, portability, and inherent quality of supplying "quick energy."
Over the years, veterans have shared their Tootsie-related service memories, reflecting on a candy that provided energy and comfort during the most critical moments. Here are a few:

Tootsie Memories Veterans Remember

....Thank you Mark for sending this to me.

Posted by Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 04:55 AM


Okay, putting tootsie rolls on my soldiers list of goodies.
What a great story! Thanks for sharing that!

Posted by: yankeemom at December 18, 2008 07:06 AM

That's such a great story. Reminded me also of going to Ben Franklin and getting penny candy.

Be a great story to print out and stick in with your Tootsie Roll care packages.

Posted by: Eden at December 18, 2008 09:00 AM

Can you imagine the Air Force guys when they got the word to drop thousands of Tootsie Rolls into a war zone? They must have thought those Army guys were nuts. You would think they would call the Army to confirm what they actually wanted but us Air Force guys like to think for ourselves and if you say you want Tootsie Rolls, you're going to get Tootsie Rolls. Fortunately it turned out to be a good thing and most likely ensured their survival.

Posted by: BobF at December 18, 2008 11:10 AM

What a neat story. I had not heard it before. Lots of stories of military people requesting candy for local kids. It is incidents like this that help make military life so interesting. A good book to read is Chicken Soup for Veterans. It is full of short stories like this.

BTW Bob. In the early 70's the Air Force was experimenting with a radar system to accurize drops from medium altitudes(1000-2000'). It was very SNAFUed. Several times on perfectly clear days they tried the system and dropped us paratroopers in the trees at Ft Bragg. The jumpmasters would look out the door and say we were over the trees. The AF would say don't worry, our fancy system allows for the wind drift and altitude. The drop zones at Bragg are gigantic, yet the AF managed to put us in the trees. Luckily that radar system was short lived and we went back to the human eye system of pilots and jumpmasters.

Posted by: TomR at December 18, 2008 12:08 PM

Thanks Chrissie and Mark.
Wow does this bring back a flood of memories, part of my company's job was hauling groceries to the troops, some were fresh most were not. I never got a tootsie roll unless it was from some good samaritan who had sent over a 'care package', they were a most prized possession.
We most often dined on the same cuisine as those things that were found in the Marine's ruck at the Rockpile, "C" Rats. Some of which contained that wonderful Hershey Tropical chocolate bar, yummie!!!. No doubt nutritious but it could be used for most anything, hot chocolate, a fire source to heat that hot chocolate, as personal camouflage, a simple dessert or an interim snack, or as it worked best, as a laxitive. How about a 'mulligan'? armed with that trusty spoon and a P38, take that steel pot off your head, fill it with all the undesireable 'C' rats donated by your buddies, combined for a communal hot meal heated over a bit of C4, served with a lot of imagination. Voila!!!! Tobasco was like gold only more valuable. I've had more than one can of rats explode on the warmer(exhaust manifold).

Smiling Tom, ol' McNamara must have brained that one up.

Posted by: Jack at December 18, 2008 12:21 PM

Tom, that's why I don't jump out of perfectly good operational airplanes.

Posted by: BobF at December 18, 2008 03:37 PM

Yankeemom, great idea.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 06:19 PM

Eden that is a great idea to send the troops the story with the candy. Thank you.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 06:23 PM

BobF., LOL yes I bet they did a double take. hahaa

"Can you imagine the Air Force guys when they got the word to drop thousands of Tootsie Rolls into a war zone?"

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 06:26 PM

Tom, I have that book I am so glad you mentioned it. Yes " Chicken Soup for Veterans", is a wonderful book.

A big OUCH, oh my gosh, very dangerous, I am glad the way things were done changed. Trees coming at a person like that...yikes.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 06:28 PM

Jack, thank you for sharing about that. Yes chocolate like that has a lot of uses, it really has things in it that are good for a person.

" I've had more than one can of rats explode on the warmer(exhaust manifold). "....LOL what a sight that would be. hahaha

Thank you Jack.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 18, 2008 06:36 PM

We should have the Air Force drop large amounts of Tootsie Rolls labeled "ammunition" over the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Maybe they will be stupid enough to load it into their weapons and jam them up.

Posted by: Les at December 18, 2008 06:46 PM

Penny candy at Ben Franklin! I remember that, too. Wonderful.

And yeah, how great to send the story along.

Ben Franklin said that beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy, but I think chocolate is, too.

Posted by: Trish at December 18, 2008 11:46 PM

I was so surprised to see my "On A Roll" story on this site. I wrote it for "Life After 50" back in April 2008. It was so wonderful to note all the comments. Tootsie Roll Industries still supplies me with lollipops for my "One Woman Comedy Show" for Grownups.. Barry Bowen, the company's treasurer has been a long time supporter of my efforts. When I perform at Soldiers Homes it's wonderful to watch the men and women unwrap their chosen flavor lollipos. It feels good to return to good childhood memories. Thanks for all your thoughtful words.. Peggy

Posted by: Peggy Melanson at December 20, 2008 05:29 PM

Hi Peggy, it is an honor to meet you on here. Thank you so much for leaving ia comment. You are an excellent writer and this story touches the heart so much.

Thank you so much for writing this story Peggy. And thank you too for sharing in your comment as well. Thank you for all you do at the Soldiers Homes.

Have a Merry Christmas.

Posted by: Wild Thing at December 20, 2008 06:05 PM

Great Story Peggy. My sister Arlene keeps the Tootsie Pops on her desk in the office for children and grownups alike. Those who are reading Peggy for the first time are lucky. Those of us who have been reading and listening to her for years are not only lucky, but extremely blessed. Keep up the usual wonderful work. Merry Christmas!

Posted by: John O'D at December 22, 2008 09:59 AM