Chick Donohue (left in photo) with some of the beneficiaries of his legendary 1968 Vietnam Beer Run
By Ray O’Hanlon
Chick Donohue is reinventing the Chick Flick.
His offering to the genre will be full of boys, the Boys of Inwood, though some of them will be portrayed a long way from that upper Manhattan neighborhood.
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Donohue, a legend in the world of those rock tunneling union members known as Sandhogs, is about to see his 2017 self-published book, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” made into a movie.
It might not end up being the greatest Vietnam War-themed film ever made.
But it could be a contender for best beer movie of all time.
Flash back to 1967. The United States is deep into the Vietnam conflict, the result becoming increasingly uncertain.
’67 went down in the books as the year that included the “summer of love.”
It was also a year of mounting criticism and protest against the war on the far side of the world.
John Donohue, who would later become leader of the Sandhogs union Local 147 and be known as “Chick” to all who knew him, was 26-years-old that year, and he had served his country in the United States Marine Corps.
By Vietnam standards he was, if not an old man, at least a fairly grizzled veteran.
As a veteran, Donohue could keep his distance from the rice fields, the jungles and the highlands of a divided land where a hot war was being waged as a result of a cold one.
He had maintained his connection to the oceans by becoming a merchant seaman after his Marine Corps service.
He was ashore when the idea was proposed in an Inwood bar, Doc Fiddler’s. Lots of crazy ideas take form in bars. Most of them never get outside the door.
But this one would.
It was suggested that, given the rising clamor of ant-war protests, one of the group of buddies that night should travel to Vietnam, somehow infiltrate the war, and deliver messages of support from loved ones in the United States to Marine Corps pals “in country.”
That support could be backed up with beer.
Chick Donohue volunteered for the mission and what happened next was that he sailed to Vietnam on a cargo ship, the “Drake victory,” carrying a backpack full of beer.
He landed in Qui Nho’n, the capital of Binh Dinh province in central Vietnam, in early 1968.
This was not good timing.
Unbeknownst to Chick, indeed unbeknownst to top American military brass, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were planning a big offensive. It would go down in history as the Tet Offensive.
Volumes have been written about the Tet Offensive, but only one volume describes Chick Donohue’s one man counter offensive – with beer.
It was not the beer that he had lugged from the U.S. That stash, suffice it to say, did not survive the long ocean voyage. But he was able to restock once making landfall in Qui Nho’n.
Here’s where the tale is taken up in a story written for the website Task & Purpose.com and itself in part based on what Chick Donohue would tell the New York Times.
“Shortly after pulling in, Donohue noticed the unit insignia on a group of military police officers who were inspecting the Drake Victory.
“They were from the 127th Military Police Company, the same unit as one of the names on his list: Tom Collins.
“Donohue, known as a smooth and quick talker, pulled one of the MPs aside and spun a sob story about looking for his brother-in-law, gave the man Collins’ name, and then waited. Not long after that, Collins arrived.
“After sharing a few drinks with Collins, Donohue set off to find the other names on his list. Donohue went from Qui Nhon, to Khe Sahn, then to Saigon, striking off names and handing out beers, then restocking.
“Donohue talked his way onto convoys, military mail planes, and transport helicopters.”
Then came Tet and Donohue found himself stranded in Saigon as the bullets flew and as his ship had left port without him.
Donohue did, of course, eventually make it back home to New York.
His mission would embed itself in local lore and would be recounted in “The Greatest Beer Run Ever,” which was penned by Donohue and Daily News writer Joanna Molloy.
It will now be told again in a Hollywood movie.
According to a New York Times report, the beer run story has caught the attention of Peter Farrelly, who directed the Oscar-winning film “Green Book.”
“The best thing is that all five of my buddies survived and came back alive,” Donohue told the Times’ Corey Kilgannon.
“Now they’re finally getting a place in the sun.”
And on the silver screen.