Many mentally and emotionally battered young men were returning home in 1968 after fighting in the Vietnam War. In this song, Steppenwolf lead singer John Kay sings from the perspective of one of the soldiers, who bears the wounds most cannot comprehend. "It's the story of a Vietnam soldier coming home and nobody understands what he went through," Kay said in a 2020 Songfacts interview
. "He cannot deal with what he went through and there's no connection between home and what he is now having to deal with. Unfortunately, that's all too often the case now with those coming home from Afghanistan or whatever. That's one example."
The subject matter is something Bruce Springsteen later covered on his 1984 hit "Born In The U.S.A.