General Douglas MacArthur was in command of the Southwest Pacific theatre of war during World War II, and he oversaw the Allied occupation of post-war Japan.
MacArthur feared that the Chinese under Mao would take over Korea, and that would have a domino effect that would lead China to conquer Japan. He was in command of the Korean War until President Harry S. Truman relieved him of his command four months following the Chosin Reservoir Battle.
During the Korean War, MacArthur hoped to push north to China and unite the South with the North, but the 30,000 U.S., Republic of Korea (ROK) and British troops wound up bogged down at the frozen over Chosin Reservoir in subzero temperatures in Nov. of 1950.
The 1st Marine Division which was the largest American Unit at the Chosin Reservoir was under the command of General Oliver D. Smith.
For three weeks 120,000 Chinese troops clad in white uniforms to blend in with the snow-covered terrain that included rugged mountains surrounding the Chosin Reservoir attempted to stop and defeat the United Nations’ forces as they advanced. The Chinese held the high ground, and wave after wave of attacking Chinese soldiers at night often led to hand-to-hand combat that left many U.S. soldiers wounded or dead along with many of their attackers.
The weather was the enemy of the United Nations’ forces as well, and many soldiers suffered frostbite while others froze to death.
To further complicate the situation, the temperatures had cracked many of the fuel lines of the 31st Regimental Combat Team’s vehicles.
Unable to retreat from the Chosin Reservoir because of the damaged vehicles, the U.S. Marines were trapped and running low on ammunition and rations. Hoping to have 60 mm mortar ammo delivered via an airdrop, the radio operator called in the request under the code name, “Tootsie Rolls.”
On the receiving end, the radio operator who took the call did not have his code book nearby, and because the radio message was urgent, he called in the order.
Soon, the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir saw parachutes with containers floating down from the friendly aircraft, but when they opened the containers, they found Tootsie Rolls instead of ammo.
The Marines were low on rations, and the Tootsie Rolls provided needed nutrition.
More importantly, they soon found that when they chewed the Tootsie Rolls and used the candy as putty to fill the cracked fuel lines the soft, moist candy would quickly freeze and repair the damaged fuel lines. Reportedly, the temperature fell to as low as 40 degrees below zero during the battle.
Once the vehicles were road-worthy thanks to the Tootsie Rolls, Smith gave the command to attack toward the sea that was 70 miles from the Chosin Reservoir down a winding mountain road in the direction of Hungnam.
The United Nations’ forces fought for five days to escape their trap, and by the time they had broken through the Chinese line and reached safety, the U.S. X Corps had suffered the following casualties: U.S. Marine, 4,385; U.S. Army, 3,163; South Korean 2,812, and British Royal Marines, 78. Many more were wounded or suffered frostbite that led to amputations.
Mao lost his eldest son in the battle, and Chinese forces suffered 50,000 killed and many more wounded.
Those Marines who survived the Battle of Chosin Reservoir dubbed themselves “The Chosin Few.”
On the Korean War Memorial in Washington D.C., the words, “Freedom Is Not Free,” can be viewed by visitors, some perhaps unaware that the Tootsie Rolls some may be chewing on are like those that saved thousands of servicemen’s lives at the Chosin Reservoir more than 70 years ago.