Mick Storen & John Schumann, I Was Only Nineteen

Running time
3 min 29 sec
Copyright
Department of Veterans' Affairs

The song I Was Only Nineteen captured the experience of Australia's Vietnam veterans and helped communicate to Australian society what many veterans themselves had been unable to share.

Transcript

Mick Storen was 19 when he joined the Australian Army to serve in Vietnam.

Mick: "If people asked me what it was like, I'd tell them. I'd tell them that it was hard work. In our platoon we ended up with six blokes killed and about thirty-five wounded. And when you've suffered a lot of casualties, you're put in the position of experiencing that."

John Schumann was a university student who played and wrote songs for a left wing folk/rock band.

John: "There was always a big part of me that bled for the soldiers. I was never ever one of those who wished for victory for the NVA and the Viet Cong. I mean I didn't really care. I just wanted these Australian boys to come home."

Fate, and Mick Storen's sister Denise, would bring these two men together. John became Mick's brother-in-law.

Mick: "He always wanted to do a song on Vietnam and could I give him any information. So I said, 'Oh well. Fair enough. As long as it's suitable, as long as it's a good song'."

John: "I had to get inside the skin, I had to look outside the eyes, I had to feel it, I had to understand it, I had to smell it, I had to live and breathe it somehow, vicariously."

Mick: "He just got me going, we had a few beers etcetera, he got me talking for more than a few hours and he recorded basically my story through the army and my experiences in Vietnam."

Mick's story and John's song writing produced the song I Was Only Nineteen.

Mick: "He goes away and comes back about three months later and says, 'I've got this song'. Anyway when he sang it, the hairs on my neck... I couldn't respond to him."

And then someone yelled out Contact! Front!
And the bloke behind me swore.
We hooked in there for hours,
With a God almighty roar.
Frankie kicked a mine
The day that mankind kicked the moon.
God help me, he was going home in June

Mick: "But the thing was he had encapsulated within that song an experience that, it wasn't only mine, it was something that every other Vietnam veteran could really understand."

The song became a number one national hit and an anthem for Vietnam veterans. Mick chose to stay in the background.

John: "As the song became wildly famous, everybody wanted to write a story about it. I was very keen for Mick to step up. He didn't want to. Absolutely didn't want to. And I didn't understand why. I do now."

Mick: "I stepped back from the song. For me it was too personal, too... to be identified with it."

I Was Only Nineteen remains an iconic song, not just for Vietnam veterans, but for currently serving members of the Australian Defence Force.

John: "We respond best to stories. We've always told each other stories from the time we got off the boat. And I Was Only Nineteen was a story; it was an 'I get it' moment."

Mick: "Really it's poetry, really. It was something I could feel proud of, but sad at the same time."

I Was Only Nineteen

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