The Tootsie Roll has earned a place in American pop culture — and history — for its chewy indestructibility. The Chicago icon was used as an energy boost in World War II military rations, and was mistakenly air-dropped to grateful soldiers fighting in the Korean War.
The confection has even been used to plug fuel drums, radiators and gas tanks hit by enemy bullets.
A display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps tells the story of the so-called “Chosin Few,” or the “Frozen Chosin,” the men of the 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. It features a figure of a Marine standing in snow, a Tootsie Roll wrapper at his feet.
The beleaguered Marines fought in temperatures that dipped as low as -50 degrees, surrounded by 10 Chinese divisions. When they sought additional mortar rounds, the radio code for the ammunition was “Tootsie Rolls.”
“The only problem was, the guy in the rear didn’t know that code,” Ret. Major Dave Vickers said in a museum video on the episode.
“The next morning, they dropped, air-dropped crates of Tootsie Rolls into the Marines, no mortar ammunition,” said Ret. Lt. Col. Andy Traynor.
The candy turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Those Tootsie Rolls gave them the sugar and the energy they needed to keep moving and to keep fighting,” Vickers said. “There were literally hundreds of these Tootsie Roll wrappers lining the roads.”
When the ‘Chosin Few’ meet for reunions, the Tootsie Roll company “always sends boxes of Tootsie Rolls,” Traynor said.
In more recent times, the confection was the name of a popular 1990s rap song, “Tootsee Roll” by the group 69 Boyz.
And a Tootsie Roll heist was featured in the 2004 Chicago novel by John McNally, “The Book of Ralph.”