John Schuman

John Schuman

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John was the lead singer of a band called “Redgum” that had a hit in the 80’s with the song “I Was Only Nineteen”. John collaborated with several Vietnam Veterans to get the “feel” while writing the song and it became a national hit. Vietnam Veterans “adopted” the song as a pseudo anthem for their cause. John, though not a Vietnam Veteran himself, became widely accepted as an ally and spokesperson in the Vietnam Veteran Community in Australia. Of particular significance was the fact (and may be still is) that all royalties and profits from the sale of this record went directly to the fund set up to raise money for the Australian Vietnam Veterans’ National War Memorial in Canberra, Australia’s National Capital. John performed that song, as well as several others, in front of a large and wildly enthusiastic, though very wet and cold, post memorial-dedication concert crowd on October 1992 which was co-hosted by Australian singer and Vietnam Veteran, Normie Rowe and Adrian “Good Morning Vietnam” Cronauer. John was the only “non-veteran” entertainer to be afforded that privilege.

I WAS ONLY NINETEEN

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. V B and pinups 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 M-16?
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 can mean your last one
On two legs: it was a war within yourself.
But you wouldn’t let your mates down till 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.

And 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.

Glossary

  • Puckapunyal, Conungra, Shoalwater: Australian Army training bases
  • Townsville: City in Queensland and major Army Barracks
  • SLR: 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle – standard Army weapon of the era
  • greens: Jungle green uniform
  • VB: Victoria Bitter – an Australian brand of beer
  • tinnies: Cans of beer
  • rec leave: recreation leave
  • Anzac: Australian and New Zealand Army Corps
  • Channel Seven: An Australian Television Network