“I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green)” by Redgum

“I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green)” by Redgum is an iconic Australian song that explores the impact of the Vietnam War on young soldiers, making it a significant contribution to songs about war. The song shares a first-person narrative of a young Australian man who is drafted into the war, depicting the harsh realities of combat and the lingering psychological impact.

The title itself, “I Was Only 19,” underscores the youth of many soldiers who were sent to Vietnam, highlighting the drastic shift from adolescence to the brutalities of war. The parenthetical “A Walk in the Light Green” refers to the dangerous zones marked by light green on military maps, where the likelihood of encountering landmines was high.

The song’s lyrics are vivid and poignant, painting a harrowing picture of the battlefield and the long-term effects of the war. Phrases like “And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep? / And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M16?” convey the trauma of war, the struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the difficulty of readjusting to civilian life.

Musically, Redgum delivers this powerful message with a folk-rock arrangement, the raw and earnest quality of the genre complementing the song’s narrative. The somber tone echoes the serious subject matter, making the song’s impact even more profound.

As a cultural artifact, “I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green)” is a testament to the experiences of young soldiers in the Vietnam War. This song is not only a critical piece among songs about war, but it also brings awareness to the psychological impact of war, underlining the importance of mental health support for veterans. Its contribution to war music continues to resonate, offering valuable insights into a soldier’s perspective on war.