Bell Huey Helicopter by: Ken Hodge
“I was only 19″ is a personal favourite war-related song of mine. There was a great write up in the Adelaide Sunday Mail a couple of weekends ago, celebrating 30 years since its release. Sadly, I can’t find it on the net – I don’t think it’s available ungated.
In the article Michael ‘Mick’ Storen, the Vietnam veteran who helped inspire the song, has become more obvious than I have ever known him to be in being publicly connected with the song. While it is a song which belongs to every soldier, it belongs to him more than anyone else: It’s his sister ‘Denny’ in the opening line ‘Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing out parade at Puckerpunyal….’ And much of the content comes from him.
In the Youtube clip below, he stands with the band as (his brother-in-law) John Schumann and others play the song in Vietnam at the 40th anniversary of Long Tan. In the Sunday Mail write up, he is photographed, as is Frankie, who was injured by a mine in battle. It’s the first time I’ve seen either of them photographed in connection with the song.
One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about the song is that I’ve known ‘Mick’ (Mike to me) for a very long time, growing up being good friends with his family. But that’s of little public significance. The most universally significant point from the article in the Sunday Mail, for mine, was this: The song was the first to articulate publicly, personally and clearly the soldiers’ struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Though I was very young when the song was released, I think it was the combination of those three things – the public, personal, and clear description of PTSD, which helped turn the tide of public sentiment from animosity toward our Vietnam veterans on their return, to genuine thanks and praise for the soldier, no matter what one might think of the merits of the Vietnam war itself. That is why the song remains significant 30 years after its release, and deserved the two-page spread which the Sunday Mail gave it. Note that if you buy the right iTunes version, you get a nice introduction from John Schumann, talking about the song.
Let me close with a quote from a Vietnam veteran friend of mine on the subject. In rough terms, he said: ‘A lot of guys can’t sleep after coming home from war. Some cope with it by drinking. I cope with it by staying up so late that I become exhausted. Then I sleep.’
This is a public note of thanks to our Vietnam veterans, a little after the 30th anniversary of that great song.