In June of 1950, North Korea invaded the lightly-defended South with infantry, tanks and artillery, nearly taking the entire country. South Korea had no tanks, anti-tank weapons or artillery. A coalition of UN member nations, led by the United States, came to assist.
After weeks of bitter fighting, North Korean forces were pushed back over the border at the 38th Parallel. In response, China sent a million-man army against the allies.
By November 26, 10,000 men of the First Marine Division, along with elements of two Army regimental combat teams, a detachment of British Royal Marine commandos and some South Korean policemen were completely surrounded by over ten divisions of Chinese troops in rugged mountains near the Chosin Reservoir.
Chairman Mao himself had ordered the Marines wiped out, and Chinese General Song Shi-Lun threw waves of 120,000 soldiers each against the heavily outnumbered allied forces.
If that wasn’t enough, a massive cold front blew in causing the coldest winter in recorded Korean history. For the encircled allies’ daytime temperatures averaged five degrees below zero, while nights plunged to 35 below, and some nights went to 50 below.
Jeep batteries froze and split. Rations ran dangerously low and the cans were frozen solid. Fuel could not be spared to thaw them. If truck engines stopped, their fuel lines froze. Automatic weapons wouldn’t cycle. Morphine had to be thawed in the medical personnel’s mouth before they could be injected. Bottles of blood plasma were frozen and useless. Resupply could only come by air, and that was spotty and erratic because of the foul weather.
High Command wrote them off, believing their situation was hopeless. Washington braced for imminent news of slaughter and defeat. Retreat was not an option, through the walls of Chinese troops. If the Marines tried to only hold their position, they would be wiped out.
So they formed a 12-mile long column — and attacked.
There were 78 miles of narrow, crumbling, steeply-angled road — and 100,000 Chinese soldiers — between the Marines and the sea at Hungnam. Both sides fought savagely for every inch of it. The march out became one monstrous, moving battle.
The Chinese used the ravines between ridges, protected from rifle fire, to marshal their forces between attacks.
The Marines’ 60-millimeter mortars, capable of delivering high, arcing fire over the ridgelines, breaking up those human waves, became perhaps the most valuable weapon the Marines had. But their supply of mortar rounds was quickly depleted.
Emergency requests for resupply were sent by radio, using code words for specific items.
Imagine all the prayers from the Marines being sent up for deliverance and resupply.
One Marine later said during an interview: “It was looking pretty bleak, because the planes couldn't fly and the Chinese were closing in," "One night a cloud opened up and a Marine looked up in the sky and he yelled, 'Look, a star. A star.' Then we knew that the planes would fly. Some Marines think that star was placed there by God as a sign, 'Don't give up hope. I haven't forsaken you.”
Through that unprecedented weather the request was received, but due to the weather, the correct station with the code sheets was unreachable.
The code for 60mm mortar ammo request was “Tootsie Rolls”.
All the radio operator knew was that the request came with command authority, it was extremely urgent — and there were tons of Tootsie Rolls at supply bases in Japan.
Tootsie Rolls had been issued with other rations to US troops since World War I, earning preferred status because they held up so well to heat, cold and rough handling compared to other candies.
Tearing through the clouds and fog, parachutes bearing pallet-loads of Tootsie Rolls descended on the Marines. Imagine the shock of the troops. Imagine the thoughts of all those who had prayed. What were the soldiers thinking when the supplies they needed urgently were not the ones they received, had they prayed in vain?
Isaiah 40:28-31 (NASB)
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly, Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.
God will supply all your needs
Notice not wants but needs.
After the shock wore off, Frozen Tootsie rolls were thawed in armpits, popped in mouths, and their sugar provided instant energy. For many, Tootsie Rolls were their only nourishment for days.
The troops also learned they could use warmed Tootsie Rolls to plug bullet holes in fuel drums, gas tanks, cans and radiators, where they would freeze solid again, sealing the leaks.
Over two weeks of unspeakable misery, movement and murderous fighting, the 15,000-man column suffered 3,000 killed in action, 6,000 wounded and thousands of severe frostbite cases. Their last battle was December 11th, but they reached the sea, demolishing several Chinese divisions in the process.
US historians called this the "greatest evacuation movement by sea in US military history". A 193-ship armada assembled at the port and evacuated not only the UN troops, but also their heavy equipment and roughly a third of the Korean refugees.
Hundreds credited their very survival to Tootsie Rolls. Surviving Marines called themselves The Frozen Chosin, and the The Tootsie Roll Marines.
Marine Frank Torres said: “The North Koreans didn't kill me. The Chinese didn't kill me. I was just one of those fortunate people that made it all the way through. … They prayed hard for me," "Believe you, all my family did and my relatives. I know that. I know that helped bring me through for sure. I absolutely should have been killed. I knew where I was going. God had my hand in his…”
This last week marked the 65th anniversary of the end of this engagement. Remember with your tootsie roll how God supplies our needs, not necessarily our wants.
© Vivian P. Kirkpatrick, 2015