“Tootsie Pop Soldier” from ‘Nam shares treats with Iraq troops
By Pat Kinney
CHARLES CITY — Carl Jacob has never forgotten one special gift he received in Vietnam.
In 1970, Jacob, now a Charles City insurance agent, was assigned to Delta Company of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade of the U.S. Army’s Americal Division near a fire station north of the Chu Lai region of South Vietnam.
“We spent a lot of time in the field. We were a line company. It was all search and destroy” missions, he said. Jacob, a sergeant, won a Bronze Star for valor and a Purple Heart for combat wounds.
As is the case with any soldier in the field, any word from home was welcome. A package was a big bonus. One of his comrades’ parents sent a package that everyone got a kick out of: A package of Tootsie Roll Pops…
They were ideal. They didn’t spoil in adverse climates. They were better than cigarettes, because lighting up would give away the soldiers’ position at night. They couldn’t smoke near gasoline, either.
Some of the guys in Jacob’s squad gathered for a group shot, all with Tootsie Pops in their mouths.
The photo of Jacob and his Vietnam buddies is now posted on the Tootsie Roll Web site, and also hangs at company corporate offices in the Chicago suburb of Cicero.
He sent the photo in 1991 prior to a Charles City jubilee celebration and received a shipment of candy to distribute in the parade. That more or less began an ongoing relationship between Jacob and the Tootsie Roll company.
He’s been sending shipments of Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops or related products to troops periodically — beginning right after the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq war, first to a one of his wife’s former students serving with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Iraq.
Since then, he’s sent shipments of Tootsie Pops to various National Guard and Reserve forces being deployed to Iraq. He’s also sent shipments to the state National Guard headquarters and to veterans hospitals.
“We’ve got kind of a relationship going,” Jacob said. To his knowledge, he said, “I’m the only person in the country that they really supply stuff to.”
He estimates he’s distributed 50,000 Tootsie products to troops.
Recently he heard of Iowa’s Bravest, a group of wage and salaried John Deere workers in Waterloo who have been sending gift packages to local troops since the war began, and are about to send out another batch for the holidays.
He dropped off a shipment of 1,000 Tootsie Rolls, which will be distributed through the several hundred gift packages the organization is sending to local troops.
“I was overwhelmed for someone to just offer that out of the blue,” Barb Dunakey of Iowa’s Bravest said. “It really touched me, since I have a soldier,” Dunakey’s son has served two tours of duty in Iraq.
“It was very heartwarming to me, since he was a Vietnam veteran, and some of them are somewhat bitter over how they were treated,” Dunakey said. “I hope somehow we can help heal that wound by making sure these soldiers aren’t treated like that.”
The Tootsie Roll and related products, part of military rations dating back to World War II, provides a connection among veterans across generations, Jacob said. At fund raisers and troop sendoffs, he offers troops, families and the general public the same message:
“When you eat Tootsie products, think of the soldiers serving overseas and their families. To the veterans, think of the many who served before you and with you who have eaten Tootsie Pops in previous wars. You are a part of a proud tradition protecting the free world.”