‘Only 19’ was a ballad written by John Schumann (lead singer of Redgum) and tells the story of his brother-in-law, Mick Storan, who was a Vietnam Veteran and recounts some of his time spent in the war. The story is told of one particular rotation, from May 1969 to May 1970 and portrays the devastation and horror of the war.
The story starts with a ‘passing out parade’, which was a graduation from military training. As mentioned, Mick graduated from the Puckapunyal training centre whilst his parents and sister watched on. The next line refers to cadets, which was a military program that was introduced to many high schools during that period of time. The line says that the real thing was far different from the cadets. The following line is about the rotation of the battalions and how Mick was called in through conscription. ‘And it was me who drew the card’.
Mick and his battalion then spent time in Kanundra and Shoalwater, where they trained in a jungle environment. Upon finishing training, they headed for the quay, or wharf, with the people of Townsville gathered for support. The last lines in the stanza focus on the naivety and innocence of the men before they are sent to war. The men are all happy, alive, clean, healthy and oh so young.
The next stanza begins the journey in Vietnam. Vang Tau and Nui Dat were both Australian bases and ‘Chinooks’ were the choppers they used to navigate the jungles of Vietnam. It was because of this terrain that the Vets had to use the choppers so much.
The stanza also reveals the homesickness of the Australians. How they tried to make themselves as comfortable in the strange, unfamiliar place. They often used old crates and discarded objects for furniture and pinned up pictures to give the illusion of home.
The next line, ‘and an agent-orange sunset through the scrub’, refers to an herbicide used in the war. The chemical destroyed any jungle that the Vietnamese troops could use...