The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War
By John “Chick” Donohue and J.T. Molloy, Narrated by Malcolm Hillgartner
Audiobook, 5 hours and 41 minutes
Published by Harper Audio
Many great stories begin with questionable decisions made while drinking beer. This is one of them. It started in a neighborhood bar in Inwood, part of Manhattan. In late 1967 public opinion was divided concerning the Vietnam War, and the locals in Georgie Lynch’s bar were worried that news of anti-war protests would hurt the morale of the servicemen from the neighborhood who were then serving in Vietnam. They decided it would be great if they could buy the soldiers a beer so that they would know that there were still people who supported them. Sitting at the bar was a man with the unique ability to actually have a chance at pulling it off.
John “Chickie” Donohue was a former U.S. Marine and a Merchant Seaman. He had crewed ships to Vietnam before and thought he could do the job. The next day word had gotten out, and local families had provided the bar with names and duty stations of their sons in Vietnam. Chickie checked in at the Union Hall, and sure enough, there was a merchant ship leaving New York for Vietnam later that day. Packing several cases of local beer, Donohue signed on to crew the ship.
After arriving in Vietnam, Chickie’s plan was simple: His story was he was looking for his stepbrother with important family news, and could he hitch a ride to where his friend was stationed. His civilian clothes were an unexpected asset, as many military officials assumed an American in civilian clothes in Vietnam must be CIA. He had little trouble catching rides and drove or flew out to bring his friends (and their friends) beer from home.
The logistics eventually caught up with Chickie and his ship pulled out, leaving him “beached”. There is a procedure for stranded Merchant Seamen to join other ships, but Donohue found himself stuck in Saigon while the wheels of the bureaucracy turned. By then it was January 1968. The Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive while Donohue was in a hotel in Saigon.
To say this was an adventure is an understatement. While Donohue had lots of help and many lucky breaks, he was in the middle of several situations which could have ended very badly very easily. This is a heartwarming story set against the background of the Vietnam War. I can recommend this book, and it will soon be made into a movie for Netflix.