I Was Only Nineteen (A Walk In the Light Green)

Album: Caught In The Act (1980)

Songfacts®:

  • This is about the Vietnam War. The "Light Green" refers to the area on a map of Vietnam. Dark green was an area where there had been no defoliants ("Agent Orange," for instance) and where there was plenty of cover. Light green meant it had been cleared, but there were likely minefields and probably Vietnamese around (because it had been cleared).
  • The areas named in the first part of the song: Puckapunyal, Townsville, Shoal Water, Nui Dat and Vung Tau are all real places. Puckapunyal was a training center for army recruits. Townsville is a town in Queensland; Shoal Water was used for military training exercises, and Nui Dat and Vung Tau were Australian bases in Vietnam. The "SLR" is the Self Loading Rifle, the standard armament of Australian Infantry in Vietnam. "Greens" in the lyrics are simply camo uniforms. "Chinooks" are helicopters, or "Choppers," and VB is a type of Australian beer - it stands for Victorian Bitters.
  • There's some dispute over whether the lyrics say "Asian Orange" or "Agent Orange." Either could make sense.
  • The "Rash that comes and goes" was a common side effect of working with Agent Orange. It could persist until you died, basically.
  • Being "Dusted Off" means an evacuation of a soldier due to medical reasons. "Contact" means, in this case, either that the soldiers had sighted an enemy or spotted a mine. "Hooked in there for hours" refers to grenades.
  • "The Grand Hotel" was a hotel in Vung Tau that had been converted for Army use. ANZAC stands for "Australian and New Zealand Army Corps." "Pieces" are shrapnel.
  • All the proceeds from this song were donated to the Australian Vietnam Veterans Association. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Liam - Hobart, Australia, for all above
  • The song precipitated a Royal Commission into the use and effects of chemical agents in the Vietnam War by the Australian military.
  • Since the moon landing was on the 20th of July, the line, "And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon. God help me, he was going home in June" means that Frankie was still 11 months from going home. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Matt - Melbourne, Australia, for above 2

Comments: 21

  • Dan from BrisbaneTo everyone commenting about the "error" regarding the line "and Frankie kicked a mine the day mankind kicked the moon, God help him, he was going home in June" - John Schumann mentioned in an interview sometime after the song was released that Frankie had been due to go home in June 1969, but his tour of duty had been extended for reasons that weren't revealed.
  • Hayden from Beverley Park, AustraliaKit, "Hooked in there for hours" actually could refer to the military maneuvers. Australians were well known for their effective ambush and contact drills in Vietnam, which involved moving towards the assaulting force, suppressing them, and moving half of the platoon/section/etc. around to flank the enemy, similar to a hook. Also, when forming a platoon harbour, the platoon would first perform a "fish hook", doubling back on themselves, to ensure they weren't being followed.
  • Simmone from Brisbane, AustraliaI like this song mainly cause my granddad faught in veitnam and i never actaly got the chance to meet him. imdoing the song fo a music assighnment and would love any coments if you can think of anything
  • Alex from Townsville, Australiaits asian orange, not agent orange.
  • Louise from Bunbury, Australiait is Agent Orange for the person up there
  • Jason from Brisban, Australiai like lisoning to this song all the time my great uncle was in ww2 a rat and another great uncle was at png so it hits me prity hard and "hooked in for hours" could mean being pined down for hours
  • Tommy from Perth, AustraliaPete from Sydney: The line "And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon God help me - he was goin' home in June" is a metaphor told with a great deal of Irony, the soldier could only relate the world's greatest achievment of the time to his personal tragedy as the worlds worst attrocities were being commited. Dont be so quick to judge it as pathetic.
    Also - VB does mean victorian beer, The victoria Barracks were only for generals and ordinary soldiers wouldn't refer to it casually in this sence. Since VB was the most popular and favoured amongst the sodiers, it is defiantly reffering to the Beer.
  • Emma from Grafton, Australiapete from nowra, Australia
    that is horrible
    it is offensive to all that Australia is about
    that man, and you if you found it amusing, should be sent to the war and see how youd like to come back with one leg or PTSD
    get a life mate, become an Aussie
  • Jess from Foster, Australiait is a great and sad song
  • Ray from Melbourne, AustraliaHearing this song as a teenager prompted me to question whether I should embark upon a military career or not. As it was, I decided not to and I am grateful for the boys who had more guts than me, who did. I once dated a couple of girls whose dads and uncles served in vietnam, they hated this song as it reminded them of the trauma. But I think it still stands as Australia's greatest ever folk song.
  • Frank from Melbourne, AustraliaPeter, Frankie was ment to have gone home the month before, his operation was extended only slightly though. Enough for death however. God this song haunts my soul.
  • Steve from Melbourne, Australia"and we made our tents a home VB" - nothing to do with beer. VB is Victoria Barracks, ie a home away from home.
  • Jim from Los Angeles, CaDear Australia, Thank You for supporting me as a U.S. Marine Forward Observer in Vietnam.
    Australians did visit Khe Sanh doing the war and I used Oz artillery at times but when and where in Vietnam I do not remember. Around 500 Ozzie's were KIA and about 2500 were wounded in Vietnam. I like this song as it is indictative of my life for a long time after returning home in a Hospital plane from battle Hill 861,over looking the Khe Sanh Combat.We call this PTSD uo here. I was wounded 6 times, twice at Khe Sanh.
  • John from Melbourne, AustraliaAs Keith pointed out, the whole June thing is accurate, not pathetic (this song was written not as fiction, but as an account of the experience of two mates of the songwriter's in Vietnam). Also, referencing Cold Chisel's Khe Sanh is rather curious, given the fact that no Australian ground troops ever fought at Khe Sanh... strictly a US engagement.
  • Kit from Melbourne, Australia"Hooked in there for hours" is actually more general Australian slang for 'working like hell for hours', and in the case referred to in the song, also in a hellish environment
  • Keith from Brisbane, AustraliaThe line "And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon God help me he was goin' home in June" is even sadder than it seems. He didn't have 11 months left, Frankie was due to go home in June 1969 but had his tour extended by a couple of months so he was actually supposed to have already gone home when he was wounded.
  • Peter from Sydney, AustraliaThis song made me grit my teeth. I cannot believe a songwriter would, in the late 20 Century, link "moon" and June" in a lyric. However, what really made me laugh was that, "And Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon

    God help me - he was goin' home in June" line.

    Neil Armstrong landed on the moon July 1969. So "Frankie" only had 11 months to go. Pathetic. Khe Sanh as a song so much more evocative.
  • Mark from Wee Waa, AustraliaThis song still gives me goose bumps when I hear it.
  • Liam from Hobart, AustraliaSong was remade in 2005 by the Australian hip-hop group The Herd with support from John Schuman from Redgum, who wrote the original.
  • Sean from Murray, KyThis song was given to me by Australian solders when the Iraq war started on ANZAC Day 2003. The Aussie soldiers knew this song better than their national anthem. I copied it to a CD and played it on ALL missions I went on in Iraq. I can not Thank Australia enough for their help to my men and America during the Iraq War. They lost many men too! Thank You Australia and Red Gum! Awesome song and great support! Some of those who heard this song for the first time never made it home alive. I only regret I could not get more songs such as this one! God Bless you all!
    Sean ' Proud American
  • Pete from Nowra, Australiaa brekky radio announcer from Australia called Rick Melbourne, did a parody on this song when it first came out.....only 16....one of the lines went " God help me ,she told me she was 16" quite amusing at the time
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