'Beer Run' Now Running

It's been a long pour. First the book then the planned movie. Covid was no help. But, at last, the screen version of "The Greatest Beer Run Ever" has made it to the big screen and is also streaming on Apple TV +.

The story is true and a deeply personal one for John "Chickie" Donohue.

And like beer, it is a story to share and raise a glass to.

Donohue, a legend in the world of those rock tunneling union members known as Sandhogs, self-published his book, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever," in 2017.

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He went on the road to read and sign copies, often in union halls.

His story, and his determination to get it before as many pairs of eyes as possible, attracted one particular set of eyes, that of movie director Peter Farrelly.

And so, the movie with Zac Efron starring as Donohue, and additional starring roles from Russell Crowe and Bill Murray.

The story?

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” or "Chickie" 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 anti-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.

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 & 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.

Now the story is embedded on the screen, big and small. 

Beers all round!