From the memoir by John “Chick” Donohue, “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” (William Morrow),
In January 1968, Sergeant Rick Duggan had to look twice when, standing in front of him was his old friend, John “Chick” Donohue.
“Chickie!” Duggan exclaimed. “Holy sh-t! What the hell are you doing here?!”
They were old friends from NYC, but their reunion was happening in Vietnam, more than 8,000 miles away–right in the middle of a combat zone in the Quang Tri province.
Donohue had served in the Marine Corps, but he wasn’t currently enlisted.
“I brought you some great beer from New York,” he said.
Donohue had set out on a four-months earlier during the height of the war to find a half-dozen enlisted men from his neighborhood and hand-deliver each of them a beer as a token of appreciation.
Finding Duggan involved talking his way onto several military helicopters and fabricating a story that Duggan was his stepbrother, before finally tracking him down in the middle of an ambush patrol.
The idea came to him in November 1967, at a now-closed Irish pub on Sherman Avenue called Doc Fiddler’s. Donohue and several other regulars were watching a news report about an anti-war demonstration in Central Park. The bartender, talking to the TV said, “Somebody ought to go over to ’Nam, track down our boys from the neighborhood, and bring them each a beer!”
Donohue loaded a duffel bag full of Miller, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Schlitz — and landed a job as an oiler on the Drake Victory, a merchant ship taking ammunition from New York to Vietnam.
Despite the odds against him, he managed to find four people on his list. Those first sips were emotional for all involved. Donohue remembers watching them as they “popped the cans open and … took their first sip of beer in a while.”
The soldiers weren’t just happy for a taste of American beer, but they were touched to realize that they weren’t forgotten. As Duggan told him, “The fact that you showed up is, like, whoa, there are actually people back home who care about us.”