John Schumann: I Was Only 19

Vietnam War - I Was Only 19

Creator: John Schumann, songwriter and member of Australian folk-rock band Redgum. The song was recorded in 1983.

Purpose: To draw attention to the experience of Australian soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.

Manifesto

I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green) John Schumann: Universal Music Publishing Pty Ltd


Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing out parade at Puckapunyal,

(It was long march from cadets).

The Sixth Battalion was the next to tour and it was me who drew the card…

We did Canungra and Shoalwater before we left.

 

And Townsville lined the footpath as we marched down to the quay;

This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean;

And there’s me in my slouch hat, with my SLR and greens…

God help me, I was only nineteen.

 

From Vung Tau riding Chinooks to the dust at Nui Dat,

I’d been in and out of choppers now for months.

But we made our tents a home, VB and pin-ups on the lockers,

and an Asian orange sunset through the scrub.

 

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?

And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M16?

And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?

God help me, I was only nineteen.

 

A four week operation, when each step could mean your last one on two legs:

it was a war within yourself.

But you wouldn’t let your mates down ’til they had you dusted off,

so you closed your eyes and thought about something else.

 

Then someone yelled out “Contact”‘, and the bloke behind me swore.

We hooked in there for hours, then a God almighty roar;

Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon:

– God help me, he was going home in June.

 

I can still see Frankie, drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel

on a thirty-six hour rec.leave in Vung Tau.

And I can still hear Frankie lying screaming in the jungle.

‘Till the morphine came and killed the bloody row

 

And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears,

and stories that my father told me never seemed quite real

I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel…

God help me, I was only nineteen.

 

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?

And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?

And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?

God help me, I was only nineteen.

Recorded under Redgum’s name in 1983 but from Redgum only Hugh McDonald and John Schumann performed on the track. Other instruments were played by Brian Czempinski, Trevor Lucas and Peter Coughlin.

Sources

John Schumann’s website and lyrics: http://www.schumann.com.au/john/lyrics.html

The story behind the song: http://www.schumann.com.au/john/articles.html

Song Promo Video: http://youtu.be/Urtiyp-G6jY

Image: Australian Soldiers at Nui Dat, http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/veterans-chance-for-vietnam-peace/story-e6freuzr-1225860405938

  • http://www.andrewob.com Andrew O’Brien

    Nice one Geoff
    As a young rock n roll promoter my first profitable gig was with Redgum. I booked them for a low fee before I was only 19 became a hit.

    Great memories of the “Stop the drop” concerts with the Oils and Redgum.

    Music is a great way to bring a manifesto to life

  • Geoff

    Hey Andrew,
    Yeah, music is a great way to bring a manifesto to life. In the story behind the song, John Schumann talks about how the song became the anthem that helped change Australia’s thinking about the Vietnam and the people who fought. And, whilst I wasn’t a rock promoter (cool), my brother played this song endlessly… so I know it well!
    Geoff