REVIEW: “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” by John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy

“The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War” by John “Chick” Donohue & J.T. Molloy

c.2020, Wm. Morrow $27.99 / $34.99 Canada 249 pages

Nobody wants to go there.

You really don’t understand the appeal. There are no attractions, no fun rides, no true reason to be there, and people stay away in droves because nobody wants to go there. Except, as in “The Greatest Beer Run Ever” by John “Chick” Donohue and J.T. Malloy, when there’s a mission involved.

In every neighborhood bar, there’s a guy like Chick Donohue warming a stool and telling stories. Stories like, f’rinstance, the time in ’67 when Donohue was at his “favorite bar in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan,” and the bartender, the “Colonel” (who wasn’t a colonel, but that’s another story) said he was tired of the disrespect that soldiers got when they came home from Vietnam. The Colonel said those boys – his neighborhood boys – deserved to know that folks at home were supporting them. Somebody, he said, needed to take those boys a beer and give them a hug from home.

Well. Why not?

Years before, Donohue served in Japan with the Marines, and was working as a merchant seaman then. That day, he was “on the beach” (between jobs) when the Colonel made his declaration, and Donohue knew he had “the right ID papers.” He said he’d do it and by the next morning, it was too late to take back those words.

Eight weeks later, after having snagged a position on a warship that took him just northeast of Saigon, Donohue fibbed to the ship’s captain, got a 3-day pass, and headed into the jungle to locate his childhood buddies – the first of which, coincidentally, he found within minutes of disembarking. The second guy, Good-Samaritan-like, happened to pick Donohue up on a dirt road heading north toward the DMZ, which is where the third guy was. But after a night in the trenches, Donohue had to split: he was four days into his three-day pass, and he had buddies yet to find.

Instead, returning to the dock, he found trouble: his ship, his only ride home, had left port without him. And it was almost Tet…

You can see it in your mind’s eye: a wooden bar, worn shiny by countless ice-filled glasses. Chrome stools with cracked red vinyl seats. The jukebox is on and somebody’s holding court at the far end with a good story, so pull up a chair. Crack open a cold one, and “The Greatest Beer Run Ever.”

Just don’t expect some sort of silly, though, because authors John “Chick” Donohue and J.T. Malloy don’t let this story go there. Readers who know their history will see that: there’s danger in this true tale, and it’s authentically told. Still, there’s a classic sense of innocent adventure that wafts through this book, somewhat like a 1950s Boy Scout magazine, but with steel pots and grenade launchers.

Not surprisingly, this tale of friendship and duty also oozes warmth despite its tense setting. It’s perfect for anyone over 60, especially veterans, who will absolutely understand every word. So look for “The Greatest Beer Run Ever”… and go there.