These Aren’t the Tootsie Rolls You’re Looking For

We’ve come to the time of year where your uh, kids’ Halloween candy haul is reaching its end. Remaining are only the dregs of tricks and treats — candy corn, circus peanuts, those weird vaguely strawberry-flavored things, and of course, Tootsie Rolls. Only after exhausting all the other options are Tootsie Rolls even considered. Never do they go first. Gooey but not in a good way, chewy but in a simply bad way, these confections are simply unpopular even among those who (incorrectly) think they’re tasty.

Combat situations may be the one exception.

On November 27, 1950, U.S.-led UN forces clashes with the Chinese at the Chosin Reservoir for what would be one of the bloodier battles in the Korean War. More than 50,000 people were killed or wounded — a toll which drained both sides. Many fighting units were run to their breaking point in both manpower and supplies.  At one point, American forces radioed (in code) for more mortar rounds, and they received exactly what they requested. Just with one problem — the code wasn’t translated properly.

Evidentally, the code word for mortar rounds was “tootsie rolls,” a sensible name given what they looked like, above. Rations came instead of ammunition; when the soldiers cracked open the crates of supplies, they were met with candy, not mortar rounds. Evacuation orders were given shortly afterward and the UN forces withdrew a few days later. (Most likely, the error wasn’t something that precipitated the retreat directly, but it certainly didn’t help.)

Yet the error wasn’t all bad. Gooey chocolate has its uses — two, in fact. One, it’s a not-terrible way to get calories. Like everything else in the war zone, even finding a meal was hard — or in this case, frozen solid due to low temperatures. Defrosting rations was impossible in the theatre of war, but Tootsie Rolls were special. Soldiers “quickly realized that they could warm the Tootsie Rolls with their bodies,” reported Inc., “giving them an edible source of calories.” The candy allowed them to make repairs, too. Equipment, riddled with bullet holes, needed to be patched up, but again, the troops were short of supplies. In a pinch, they found that melted Tootsie Rolls could be molded to meet their needs, especially because the chocolate chews would freeze in place quickly.

Never a favorite at Halloween, these candies offered the soldiers a chance of survival after all — just not the one they expected.

Bonus fact: In the late 1960s, Mattel came out with a toy called the “Toot Sweet” (perhaps inspired by the song “Toot Sweets” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ). The toy made Tootsie Rolls non-awful: it converted them into whistles. Here’s an ad for the product and a picture of its box.

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