In the heat of battle, they asked for ammo and got candy. Somehow, they made it work.

66 years ago, thousands of American and allied forces were saved thanks to a very small, very chewy secret weapon:

Tootsie Rolls.


Photo by Allison Carter/Flickr (cropped).

Yep, that's right. The mediocre-at-best chewy chocolate candy that you eat reluctantly six weeks after Halloween or if you're really good at the doctor's office also totally saved lives.

But what? How? Buckle up — it's history time.

It was the winter of 1950. Allied troops had been deployed to help an underarmed South Korea fight off powerful North Korean invaders.

United Nations troops, which consisted mainly of U.S. Marines from the 1st Marine Division, joined forces with a U.S. Army combat team, some South Korean Military Police and a detachment of British troops, around 25,000 men altogether. The group was chasing North Korean soldiers — who, by the way, had the might of China's Mao Zedong along with the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin behind them — out of the Changjin Reservoir, often referred to as Chosin.

But they weren't alone.

Hearing the North Korean soldiers were in a bad way, Mao sent 150,000 Chinese soldiers to back them up. The Chinese soldiers surrounded the allied troops, hoping to isolate and destroy the 1st Marine Division.

"I thought the whole division was going to die," Capt. Richard Wayne Bolton told Military.com. "The Chinese came to annihilate the 1st Marine Division and I thought every one of us was going to die."


Photo by U.S. Marine Corps/Wikimedia Commons.

Not only were the men surrounded and outnumbered, they were freezing cold.

This wasn't "Wow, I could use some cocoa" cold. It was cruel, punishing, unforgiving cold, as low as 40 below zero at night.

Bulldozers and tanks couldn't move. Fuel lines cracked. Guns wouldn't fire properly. Sweat froze on skin and between toes. Rations and extra blood for the wounded were frozen solid and rendered useless.

They were hungry, tired, frostbitten, and running out of options.

Photo by U.S. Marine Corps/Wikimedia Commons.

That's when someone put in a call for more mortar shells, the code name for which was — you guessed it — "tootsie rolls."

Only someone back at command wasn't familiar with the code.

When the supplies arrived via airdrop, instead of ammunition, the soldiers opened the crates to reveal thousands of frozen Tootsie Rolls.

GIF via Great Big Story/YouTube.

But the troops didn't have time to get mad. They needed to get home.

Desperate for food, the allied soldiers thawed the candy in their mouths and armpits for some quick energy.

And given the sticky properties of the Tootsie Rolls, once defrosted, they could also be used to repair broken fuel lines and bullet holes in equipment.

The men applied the melted candy over a rip or tear and waited for it to freeze again. Boom. This was their way out.

GIF via Great Big Story/YouTube.

For 13 days, the allied forces at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir refused to give up.

The Marines formed a column and marched toward the port city of Hungnam and the Sea of Japan, where other American forces were waiting.

When asked if his company was retreating, 1st Marine Division Gen. Oliver Prince Smith responded: "Retreat? Hell, we are attacking in another direction."

A column of troops move through Chinese lines during their successful breakout from the Chosin Reservoir. Photo by Cpl. Peter McDonald, USMC/Wikimedia Commons.

For 78 miles, they marched the steep, dangerous road, fighting through 10 Chinese infantry divisions.

Fueled by sheer will, guts, and a few thousand pieces of candy, the men managed to claw their way back from certain doom.

One Marine wrote: "By large, Tootsie Rolls were our main diet while fighting our way out of the Reservoir. You can bet there were literally thousands of Tootsie Roll wrappers scattered over North Korea."

Photo by U.S. Marine Corps/Wikimedia Commons.

While many would hesitate to call the 13-day event a victory in the traditional sense, the withdrawal is one of the most well-known campaigns in Marine history.

There's even a Navy ship named after it.

The men, outnumbered and surrounded, managed to not only get to the sea but to slow the progress of the Chinese troops and immobilize several of their divisions.

Those who survived, who call themselves the Chosin Few, owe their lives to ingenuity, grit, and highly under-appreciated candy.

It may not be the tastiest treat around, but the story of how it earned its place in American history should never be forgotten.

Marines and their families attended the Chosin Reservoir monument dedication in California. Photo by U.S. Marine Corps/Wikimedia Commons.

See a re-creation of the heroic and surprising turn of events in this video from Great Big Story.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

via Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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