November 28, 2022

The True Story Of John Chickie Donohue’s 8,000 Mile Beer Run

In 1967, John “Chickie ” Donohue of New York boarded the merchant ship Drake Victory on its way to deliver oil to Vietnam, according to War History Online. Unlike many looking to avoid the draft, Donohue (pictured) boarded the Drake Victory for another purpose entirely: He sought to get back to the war-torn southeast Asian country, not so much to fight in the war, nor for some top-secret government assignment. Instead, Donohue was on a mission all his own: Once back in country, Donohue intended to deliver a beer to friends from his old New York neighborhood who were still enlisted.

At the time that Donohue stepped onto the Drake Victory, the Vietnam War had been raging for more than a decade, and the conflict had become controversial, spurring public demonstrations and protests in the U.S. and elsewhere, as ThoughtCo explains. Donohue, who was 26 years old when he joined the merchant marines, had previously served in the military but had never seen combat. Several men he knew personally, though, were still serving, and by delivering them all a beer, Donohue accomplished what some now call the greatest beer run in history.

Donohue disagreed with anti-war protests

The idea to deliver beer to friends serving in Vietnam came to Donohue in a New York City bar. He was aware of the growing anti-war sentiment across the U.S., and especially on American college campuses. In his view, it was disrespectful to those serving to speak out against the war, and though he had never seen combat while serving, he’d lost many friends in Vietnam. Around that same time, large anti-war protests were taking place in New York’s Central Park, where draft cars were burned and people like Martin Luther King Jr. gave speeches, according to the Zinn Education Project.

While drinking at that bar, Donohue watched news coverage of the Central Park protest. The bartender, George Lynch, shared Donohue’s view that to protest the war was anti-patriotic and a snub both to those who had served and to those still in harm’s way. While news footage of the demonstration played on the television, Lynch said within earshot of Donohue that rather than protesting, someone should travel to Vietnam to toast those soldiers with a beer. Already a member of the merchant marines, Donohue volunteered for the job, certain he could make his way back into the country (via Task and Purpose).

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Donohue also carried messages from family members

Before he departed on the Drake Victory, Donohue stocked-up on beer and checked in with family members, gathering messages they might like him to deliver. It took two months to arrive, and by that point, Donohue had run through his beer supply, as he told The New York Times in 2017. Once he arrived in early 1968 around the same time as the Tet Offensive, Donohue restocked his beer  and set about accomplishing his mission. Through happenstance, Donohue found himself in touch with the unit in which one of his friends was serving. From there, Collins worked his way across the country, beer in tow, successfully sharing a beer with each person that he was after. 

In retrospect, it all sounds like a wartime tall-tale, and Donohue admits no one believed what he had done once back in the U.S. In 2017, Donohue said (via The Times) “For half a century, I’ve been told I was full of it, to the point where I stopped even telling this story.” Donohue proved the story was true in 2020 with the book “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Crazy Adventure in a Crazy War” which has now been made into a movie (via IMDb). A trailer for “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” feature film is available to watch now on Youtube.