It seems that Tootsie Roll Industries would have little to do with Mitchell Zuckoff's book Lost in Shangri-La. However, since acquiring the Charms Candy Company in 1988, this business has been the producer of Charms - the very food that provided the Gremlin Special's passengers with enough sustenance to survive in the jungle.
"Breakfast was water and more Charms, still their only food on the third day after the crash," writes Zuckoff. "They separated the candies by color, eating the red ones until they tired of them, moving on to yellow, and so on."
The Charms Candy Company began producing Charms (their first product) in 1917. Due to the hardiness of the candy; its ability to withstand the elements; its light, small size; the burst of energy its sugar provided; and its colorful packaging, which was thought to boost the troops' morale; the sweet became a standard part of American soldiers' military issue around the start of World War II.
In the 1940s, the individually wrapped candy squares were made primarily from sugar and natural and artificial flavoring (though now they are also made with corn syrup). They came in an assortment of fruit flavors: lemon, lime, grape, orange, raspberry, and were a staple of soldier's MRE ("Meal, Ready-to-Eat") rations.
The treat that was meant to sustain military forces has taken on a more ominous tone in recent years. "The Curse of Charms Candy" is of unknown origin, but superstition claims that if a soldier eats, or even keeps the candy in their possession, it brings bad luck.
In an article entitled "US Marines Ditch Their Unlucky Charms," one sergeant warns, "Chew on a lemon Charm and you're heading for a vehicle breakdown. Suck on a lime, and it rains. Raspberry - for the highly superstitious - means death."
Journalist Ashley Gilbertson of the New York Times found the same beliefs among forces in Afghanistan. "Never eat the Charms, the troops say; they're unlucky. It's just a superstition, of course - I've never met a soldier who could tell me why they were unlucky - but the G.I.'s take it seriously. I sometimes think that if I ever got separated from my unit in the field, I'd just follow a trail of discarded unopened Assorted Charms to find them again."
Antique MRE photo credit: User:Skiff
This article was originally published in September 2011, and has been updated for the
April 2012 paperback release.
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