Tootsie Rolls One of the Ties That Bind Chosin Vets
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
SAN DIEGO, Dec. 8, 2000 Joseph Smith just laughs and shakes his head when asked what Tootsie Rolls meant to the veterans of the Chosin Reservoir Campaign in November and December 1950.
“Let me tell you a story,” he begins. Smith was a Marine private first class when the Chinese swooped down and surrounded him and 10,000 of his compatriots on Thanksgiving Day. “The Chinese had sprung a trap,” he said. “So someone got on the phone and said, ‘We need ammunition.’ And do you know what happened?”
At this, Smith picked up a handful of Tootsie Rolls and let them fall to the table. “We asked for barbed wire,” he went on, and again dropped a handful of Tootsie Rolls.
“We asked for grenades,” and the Tootsie Rolls came down again. As it turns out, the officials in charge of resupplying those trapped troops had decided Tootsie Rolls would provide energy without having to cook anything.
Those Tootsie Rolls would come to mean more to those men than any of them could have imagined. “When we asked for food, we got ammunition, barbed wire and grenades,” Smith said. “There wasn’t a lot of food available, so everyone just took as many Tootsie Rolls as they could and stuffed them in their pockets.
“This was the only food for a lot of people coming through the battle of the Chosin Reservoir,” Smith said. He also said he doesn’t eat Tootsie Rolls any more, except for one at each reunion “to bring back memories.”
Smith traveled here from Boise, Idaho, to attend the 50th anniversary reunion of the “Chosin Few,” the group of veterans from that campaign.
Al Rasmussen, a corporal at the time, said it was good to have supplies dropped in, but those needed items brought their own hazards. He explained that the parachute bundles of Tootsie Rolls were loaded on sheets of plywood in the planes to make it easier for them to slide out. So as the bundles would be floating down on parachutes, the troops in the area had to watch out for falling sheets of plywood.
Rasmussen also said the vicious cold during the battle was both good and bad for the Tootsie Rolls. “They broke into pieces easily when they were frozen,” Rasmussen explained, but being frozen made them harder to eat as well.
“You had to suck on them for 20 minutes before you could even begin to chew on them,” he said.
Rasmussen traveled from Tacoma, Wash., to reunite with this group for whom Tootsie Rolls have become one of the many ties that bind.
In fact, Tootsie Rolls have become such a symbol of what this group went through that the company sent a representative to the reunion.