Wartime role of the Tootsie Roll

February 20, 2002|By JENNIFER RALTON-SMITH, Staff Writer

When Ray Downs of Brawley was a young Marine Corps sergeant far from home fighting in the Korean War, he could not possibly see into a future where he would be retelling his wartime experiences to an audience of school children.

On Tuesday, Downs, together with other local Korean War veterans, gathered at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in El Centro for a "Patriotic Day" celebration with the students.

As commander of Korean War Veterans Chapter 102, Imperial Valley, Downs was the organizing force behind Tuesday's remembrance activities at the school.

Standing on stage in the school cafeteria, Downs looked down on an audience of fourth- and fifth-graders who clearly found Downs' retelling of his wartime experiences to be fascinating stuff.


He described to his young audience the freezing cold conditions the young Marines had to fight under, and how they were often scared and convinced they might die far from home while fighting for their country.

But in a lighter moment, he told the students of how that most American of candies, the Tootsie Roll, saved the day on more than one occasion. Downs had his audience alternatively laughing and gasping in amazement at the "Tootsie Roll" story.

"When the enemy shot holes in our gas tanks, we would chew on Tootsie Rolls until they were all soft. Then we would plug up the holes with them … in the freezing cold weather that candy would freeze up as hard as steel! The call would go up and down the line — ‘Tootsie Rolls to the rear! Tootsie Rolls forward!'"

Downs went on to add "There's not a Marine who served in Korea who does not take off his hat to — and regard very highly, the humble Tootsie Roll."

After his presentation, Downs stepped down from the stage and, aided by teachers and staff, handed out Tootsie Rolls to the delighted youngsters.

When asked what he wanted the students to gain from the morning's presentation, Downs said "I hope they take away a sense of what liberty is. I hope they understand what we went through to provide them with liberty and to provide them with education and equal opportunity. That sacrifices were made through our blood for their freedom."

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles