The Greatest Beer Run Ever: Vietnam, 1968

The Greatest Beer Run Ever? That’s what PBR calls John “Chickie” Donohue’s one-man invasion of Vietnam, using his merchant seaman’s papers, a ride as a crewman on an ancient Victory ship, and a bullshit story to visit his friends in-country: his best friend, Bobby Pappas at Long Binh; Tommy Collins, an MP in Qui Nhon; Ricky Duggan, a grunt with the 1st Cav at Quang Tri, who was out on the perimeter when Chickie showed up.

As he arrived back in Saigon after linking up with all three of his friends, he saw the sky light up, and heard with a sinking feeling that “That had to be the ammo dump at Long Binh” — right where Pappas was.

So he went back to Long Binh, where a very alive Pappas met him with a stream of invective — very welcome invective. Proof that his friend was alive.

Was it the Greatest Beer Run Ever? It has to be on the shortlist.

Exit thought: if you’re bummed out that the WWII and Korea vets in your family have passed on without telling their stories, remember that the Vietnam vets are all in their sixties and seventies now, and the actuarial tables describe the inevitability of their numbers dwindling at an increasing rate. It might be time to get Granddad or Uncle Jack on record while you still can.

10 thoughts on “The Greatest Beer Run Ever: Vietnam, 1968

  1. H

    Good Lord. My hay fever is acting up a little after that.

    Thanks very much for putting this up there. Those of us of “a certain age” remember PBR, Ballentines and Carling’s Black Label quite well even today, warm and rusty cans and everything.

  2. SemperFido

    I still drink PBR. Had to give up the Luckys though. How about Schlitz? We used to have that back then too. Back when we needed church keys. Man H, the 60’s and 70’s were so long ago. Who ever would have believed that we would still be around now?
    The last of the WW2 vets in our family died this last year. I had good times with those men. My Dad and my uncles. Heard the stories. They played cards and drank beer. And nothing fazed them because they had stood up to the worst that the Japs and Krouts could toss at them and came out on top.
    They were my heroes as I was growing up although they would kick my ass for calling them that. To themselves they were just regular guys who had a job to do.
    We were lucky to have such a generation in this country.


    i have offered to write Dad’s Vietnam war stories into first hand account but he refuses to let me. He has told me a lot of stories but is unwilling to allow me to type it out as he dictates it, I really wish he would let me

    1. Mike_C

      Will he let you record while he is telling his stories? Or type out what you remember and show him the drafts. This is a sensitive issue around these parts right now, since my own dad is doing poorly; both his enthusiasm for telling his stories, and his memory of them for that matter, are fading out. The chemotherapy was apparently effective dealing with the cancer, but it’s doing in the person as well. As the misquote goes, “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

      Re “beastly” beer. ‘Gansett is a New England tradition (so says the midwestern transplant) I suppose, but I concur with the finance guy. Their milk stout and porter are disappointing, to say the least. The regular Naragansett is at least inoffensively insipid.

  4. Cap'n Mike

    My Dad owned a bar in South Boston in the 60s and 70s. He still owns a place in the city I work in.
    In Southie, a lot more Schlitz was being sold then PBR IIRC.
    I remember guys like Chickie, absolute characters. Barrooms for them werent about the booze, but about the people.
    What a fantastic story that is.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Some years ago, my family invested in a brewery, Long Trail. We did very well. (We’d have done better if the entrepreneur, Andy Pherson, had been running it as a business rather than as a labor of a life’s love of brewing, but the beer probably would have suffered).

      A few years ago our financial guy had a new private placement — the reboot of Narragansett. I personally passed (I dunno what everyone else did). The finance guy put his own money in. It is being run as a business and he’s very happy with his gains. He says the beer is beastly.

      1. Cap'n Mike

        Narragansett is probably a hipster Beer now, just like PBR. You probably would be making a killing had you invested. Those guys care more about the label than the taste.

        I wonder if my Dad might have had the old Narragansett’s last customer.
        Into the early 1990s, we had one guy left who drank it. He was an old retired roofer who was built like a fire plug. We could only get Narragansett in 16oz cans at that point, but kept it on hand just for him. He died a couple of months after I left for the Army I was told. I can still hear him say “Give me another Gansett kid”

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