The making of Korea: Forgotten War, Remembered Heros
Preparing for the documentary
Profiles of those interviewed:
Robert Bey, Korean War Veteran
Service in Korea
Robert Bey appears in our documentary, Korea - Forgotten War, Remembered Heroes. We present here some of his experiences. During the Korean War Robert Bey was a rifle platoon leader with 40 men under his command. His platoon was part of the 1st Marine Division. Robert Bey was a rifle platoon leader with 40 men under his command. His platoon was part of the 1st Marine Division. In September 1950, Bey participated in the liberation of Seoul from the hands of the North Koreans. A month later, the 1st Marine Division along with parts of the 8th U.S. Army combat teams and British and South Korean fighters were pushing north to the Yalu River, the border between North Korean and China, in an effort to unify all of Korea.
On a daily basis, his platoon would run across small groups of Chinese who would engage them in firefights and then withdraw. If their commanders took the encounters seriously, they did not say so. The temperatures ranged from minus five degrees (Fahrenheit) below zero in the day to minus twenty-five below zero at night. The ground froze so hard that the men could not dig trenches. The cold impeded weapons from firing automatically. It also numbed minds and froze extremities. Winter uniforms had not been issued and suffering from the coldest winter in North Korean history, some of the men lit fires to keep warm. It was not hard for the Chinese army, which outnumbered them 10 to 1, to ambush and surround them at a mountain reservoir called Chang Jin (the Americans called it "Chosin.").
Tootsie Roll Incident
Robert Bey remembers the “Tootsie Roll” incident. It occurred during the intense fighting that took place at the Chosin Reservoir. The story is told at the US Marine Corps website.
The year is late 1950, and artillery shells are bombarding the area
of North Korea known today as the Chosin Reservoir. Approximately 10,000
Marines from the 1st Marine Division are surrounded by approximately 200,000
troops making up eight different divisions.
Battling frostbite, hunger and imminent danger, ammunition begins to run low for the Marines. Fearing a possible break in intelligence communication codes, the Marines develop new code words for their much-needed supplies [ammunition].
" You heard me," shouts a radio operator relaying supply orders for more ammunition. "We need Tootsie Rolls dropped ASAP!"
Within hours, the beleaguered Marines are again bombarded, this time by thousands of canisters of candy.
Actual Tootsie Roll candies were being dropped on the Marines who had no choice but to chew on the frozen treats as their C-rations had already frozen and burst in their cans causing them to go bad.
The Air Force did send mortar ammunition when it discovered the misunderstanding. However, the mistake may have been an act of providence. The men were close to starvation and the chocolate Tootsie Rolls (biggies) provided food and energy the Marines would not otherwise have. Tootsie Rolls were useful for plugging holes in fuel drums, radiators and gas tanks that had been riddled with bullets after enemy attacks. The men softened them up with their own body heat and placed them in the holes. Once in place, the softened Tootsie Roll froze again and made a perfect plug.
The Chosin Few
The battle of the Chosin Reservoir is an epic Marine tale of discipline under adversity. Robert Bey was one of the few, "The Chosin Few" who made it out of that reservoir despite intense enemy fire and dangerous cold. After it became apparent that US forces could not win, his commander gave the order to retreat. However by that time, the weather had turned for the worse. He remembers being pinned down for four days waiting for air support. The constant snows made it impossible for pilots to provide cover for their retreat. On the morning of the fifth day they saw a bright silver star in the sky and realized they might be able to break out from their position that day and head east to the sea. That star was one of the most welcome sights he’d ever seen. He regards the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir as “the key battle” of the Korean War.
In addition to serving in Korea, Robert Bey served in World War II although he did not see combat. He was in the Vietnam War in 1967 and 1968. He is documented in the Library of Congress Veterans History Project.
Robert Bey (center) at the Marine Street Barracks in St. Augustine, FL