Historical Accuracy (Q&A):
Who came up with the idea of making a beer run to Vietnam?
The Greatest Beer Run Ever true story confirms that a former G.I. and bartender named George "The Colonel" Lynch (he wasn't actually a colonel) came up with the idea one night in November 1967 at Doc Fiddler's saloon. It inspired 26-year-old Chickie Donohue to make the trip to Vietnam. Lynch (portrayed by Bill Murray in the movie) hated seeing protests against the Vietnam War on TV while boys from their neighborhood of Inwood in Upper Manhattan were over there fighting and dying.
"Do these protestors not know that our soldiers see them and that it's broadcast all over the world," says Bill Murray as The Colonel in the film. "I'd like to go over to Vietnam and track down all the boys in the neighborhood and just give 'em a beer." Moments later, Zac Efron's character responds, "I could do that." This is very similar to how it went down in real life. Two days after the conversation at the bar, Chickie left for Vietnam on a wartime supply ship called the Drake Victory.
Actor Bill Murray (left) portrays George "The Colonel" Lynch, pictured on the right during his time in the Army.
"A lot of my friends were serving in Vietnam. I just wanted to go over there and buy them all a beer. That's what I did," recalled Chickie (Pabst Documentary
). He told The New York Times
that by late 1967 when he made the decision to go, there were more than 20 young men from the neighborhood who had lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
Was Chickie Donohue married at the time he embarked on the "greatest beer run ever"?No. Similar to what's seen in the John "Chickie" Donohue beer run movie, he was 26 and still living at home at the time of his beer run to Vietnam. He would later marry Theresa "Terri" O'Neill.
Had John "Chickie" Donohue served in the military?
Yes. The Greatest Beer Run Ever fact-check confirms that John Donohue (known as "Chick" or "Chickie") was a Marine Corps veteran in late 1967 when he decided to go track down his friends in Vietnam and give them beer. During his four years in the military as a private, he had been stationed in the Phillippines and Japan. He was working as a Merchant Marine in 1967 and had traveled to Vietnam three times before. He had the right security clearances to be able to work aboard a transport vessel bound for Vietnam.
John 'Chickie' Donohue (left) is pictured during his time in the Marines.
How many close friends did Chickie try to track down in Vietnam?Originally, Chickie set out to take beer to six men. He gathered any information he could find on the whereabouts of the men and then boarded a ship transporting ammo from New York to Vietnam. He brought with him a duffel bag filled with American beer, including brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz. During his trip, the number of men shrank to four when one, Richie Reynolds, was killed in action and another was sent home after contracting malaria. -CBS News
Chickie Donohue intended to track down Richard "Richie" Reynolds Jr. (pictured) but learned that Reynolds was killed in action.
Did Chickie's sister, Christine, object to him going to Vietnam to deliver beer?
No. In the movie, Chickie's sister, Christine Donohue (Ruby Ashbourne Serkis), protests the war and objects to him going over to take beer to his friends. In researching how accurate is The Greatest Beer Run Ever on Apple TV+, we learned that in real life, Christine didn't know he had gone over to Vietnam until later when their mother told her. "I didn't really know beforehand," says Christine. "That's all kind of literary license." -TIFF Premiere Interview
Actress Ruby Ashbourne Serkis as Christine Donohue in The Greatest Beer Run Ever
Did Chickie have serious doubts as to whether he'd be able to find his friends in Vietnam?Yes. "I thought it would be impossible," Chickie said in a 2022 interview with CBS Sunday Morning, "but I had to try, and if I failed, I failed." There were roughly 500,000 soldiers and Marines in Vietnam at that time, and Chickie's friends were all stationed with different units. Somehow, he managed to find all four of them. "I don't believe in coincidences anymore," Chickie said of being able to locate all four men. "Somebody wanted it to happen."
Were Chickie Donohue's friends as surprised to see him in Vietnam as they are in the movie?
Yes. "I said, 'What the hell are ya doin' here?'" recalled Tommy Collins, the first friend Chickie found. Like in the movie, Chickie replied, "I came to bring you a beer." It's true that Chickie found Collins almost immediately after he arrived in Qui Nhon on January 19, 1968 and got off the ammo ship that brought him 10,000 nautical miles to Vietnam. -CBS Sunday Morning
John 'Chickie' Donohue (left) sits down to enjoy a can of food with soldiers in Vietnam. Actor Zac Efron (right) depicts Chickie in the film.
Did Chickie's clothes make him stand out like he does in the movie?Yes. The Greatest Beer Run Ever true story reveals that he indeed stood out like a sore thumb. Like in the Chickie Donohue beer run movie, he was dressed in a checked madras shirt and well-worn, light-colored jeans.
Is Russell Crowe's character, war photographer Arthur Coates, based on a real person?
No. In the movie, Chickie (Zac Efron) visits a bar in Vietnam and encounters a gruff war photographer named Arthur Coates, portrayed by Russell Crowe. They strike up an instant friendship and Arthur helps to educate him as to what's really going on in Vietnam. We found no evidence that Arthur Coates existed in real life. He doesn't appear in Chickie Donohue's book, nor could we find any record of a war photographer in Vietnam by that name.
Russell Crowe's character, war photographer Arthur Coates, is not based on a real person.
Did Chickie get around Vietnam by talking his way aboard military flights and Jeeps?
Yes. While answering the question, "Is The Greatest Beer Run Ever accurate?" we learned that when those in charge asked who he was, the real Chickie Donohue says that he would whisper, "Major, if I told you the truth, you wouldn't believe me."
"And it worked," says Chickie. "It worked." It's true that due to his clothing, some of the soldiers believed he was a CIA agent. -CBS Sunday Morning
Did John "Chickie" Donohue put himself in harm's way while in Vietnam?Yes. The Greatest Beer Run Ever fact-check verifies that like in the Apple TV+ movie, John Donohue (nicknamed "Chickie") put himself in dangerous areas to find his friends. This is true of when he hunted down Rick Duggan (portrayed by Jake Picking), who was manning an ambush site near the border with North Vietnam. "He found me, which is a miracle in itself," says Duggan. "We were never in the same place for more than two or three days at a time."
Perhaps Chickie's most dangerous experience was when he tracked down the final name on his list, Bobby Pappas (portrayed by Kyle Allen in the movie). This was after the 1968 Tet Offensive started. Pappas was stationed at a huge ammunition dump that was attacked by the Viet Cong. "They blew up $8 million worth of ammunition in eight seconds," recalls Pappas, "a million dollars a second." It's true that Pappas got mad at Chickie for telling him the U.S. was winning and the war would be over soon.
Did Chickie's friend Kevin McLoone find him while Chickie was walking down a jungle road?
Yes. It's true that his friend Kevin McLoone came upon him while he was walking down a jungle road. "This is like a free fire zone," recalls McLoone of the danger. "I stopped and picked him up, and I said, 'What the hell are ya doin' out here?' and he says, 'I came over to bring the boys some beers and to let them know that we appreciate what they're doing.'"
Did Bobby Pappas really tell Chickie that he has a good heart but it's his brain that's gonna get him killed?
Yes. According to Pappas, he really did say this to Chickie. "I was scared for him, ya know. I didn't know how he was gonna get home, where he was gonna go," recalls Pappas. -CBS Sunday Morning
How long did Chickie spend in Vietnam tracking down his friends?
Chickie spent approximately four months in Vietnam tracking down his four friends. He wanted to take them beer and let them know they were appreciated.
John 'Chickie' Donohue (left) is pictured in Vietnam. Actor Zac Efron (right) portrays Chickie in the movie.
Did the trip change Chickie's opinion about the Vietnam War?Yes. "I was a staunch supporter of the war," says Chickie, " but when I got there, I saw things that just weren't right, and it was just false, totally false." Chickie says that he came home knowing the truth about the war (CBS Sunday Morning). In his book, The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War, he stated that what he witnessed while he was there didn't change his respect for the young men fighting, but it did change his opinion about the conflict. "I had believed that we were winning, because I'd believed what our leaders were saying." However, being on the ground in Vietnam and talking to his old neighborhood friends convinced him that the war was not going well and it might not end in America's favor. The John "Chickie" Donohue movie introduces Russell Crowe's fictional character, Arthur Coates, who also helps to change Zac Efron's character's mind about the war.
What did Chickie Donohue do with his life after the events in the movie?
In the process of exploring The Greatest Beer Run Ever true story, we learned that after his time as a Merchant Marine, Chickie worked as an urban miner for the city, digging train and water tunnels deep in the bedrock. As stated earlier, he married Theresa "Terri" O'Neill. -The New York Times
Is John "Chickie" Donohue still alive?Yes. In June 2015, Chickie and the four friends he took beer to reunited as a group for the first time since he saw each of them in Vietnam in 1967/68. Their reunion at P&K's Grille in The Bronx was featured in the Pabst Blue Ribbon John "Chickie" Donohue documentary that caught the attention of executives at the Skydance production company, who decided to turn it into a movie. According to The New York Times, they now get together for dinner regularly in New York. The five men were also together in 2022 at the world premiere of The Greatest Beer Run Ever at the Toronto International Film Festival and have recently done interviews together promoting the film. At the time of the movie's release on Apple TV+ in September 2022, all five men were still alive. Chickie was 81.
Chickie Donohue (center) is pictured in 2022 with the four men he took beer to in Vietnam. From left to right: Tommy Collins (bottom left), Bobby Pappas (top left), Rick Duggan (top right), and Kevin McLoone (Bottom Right).
Was Chickie Donohue involved in the making of the movie?
Yes. In addition to co-writing the 2017 book The Greatest Beer Run Ever: A Memoir of Friendship, Loyalty, and War with New York Daily News reporter Joanna Molloy, which provided the basis for the film, Chickie was closely involved with the making of the movie and visited the set. "He asked me, 'Did you do this or that?' He wanted my help," Chickie told The New York Times of actor Zac Efron. "It felt good that he wanted my participation." Chickie also appeared in interviews with Zac Efron to promote the film.
Chickie says that Zac Efron "nailed" the portrayal. "Watching him playing me, I felt the same emotion that I felt 50-something years ago."
Did Chickie Donohue know who Zac Efron was prior to the making of the movie?No. "I had never heard of him," Donohue told The New York Times. "But my granddaughter told me he's this, he's that — so he passed the smell test for the family."