Ballad Of The Unknown Soldier

Barbara Dane
Language: English

List of versions

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"The song is called "The Ballad of the Unknown Soldier." I
don't know whether anyone other than Barbara Dane sang it in the U.S.back in those days. Barbara recorded it on Paredon's "What Now People?" Vol. 1. some time in the early seventies. (She first got the song from Peggy Seeger who sent it to her in 1969.) The author, Rod Shearman, is English. Shearman wrote it after seeing a brief item in the Manchester Guardian about an American GI, dressed in sandals and black pajamas, who was found dead behind "enemy" lines. (There had been a number of other stories in the New York Times and other places about GIs who "went over to the other side" in Vietnam. One had to do with a team known as Salt and Pepper -- a Black GI and a white GI, and another solder called Porkchop, who also fought alongside the Vietnamese. Jack Warshaw, an American draft resister who was living in England during the Vietnam War, shortened the original down to seven verses and sang it at least in the Singers' Club and probably other places too. (That's where I first heard it.) When Barbara recorded it she cut it down to five. I don't think it was ever printed anywhere, but you can probably get a copy of "What Now People?" Vol. 1 from Smithsonian-Folkways. Barbara and I donated the entire Paredon catalog to Smithsonian-Folkways about five years ago. I remember Barbara singing this song for active-duty GIs at the various coffee houses the GI support movement set up adjacent to army bases and the chills that would go up and down my spine as she got to the line about the soldier "wearing the black pajamas of the People's NLF" when it finally dawned on the GIs listening exactly what the song's point was. And then she would get them to sing along on the chorus of Ewan MacColl's "Ballad of Ho Chi Minh." Very few people know the incredible story of how songs became a powerful medium through which antiwar GIs could vent their feelings about the Vietnam War. [IS]
Come and Listen to a story I will tell
Of a young GI you will remember well.
He died in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta land,
He had sandals on his feet and a rifle in his hand.

I wonder what was his name?
I wonder from which town he came?
I wonder if his children understood the reason why
Of the way he had to fight and the way he had to die.

They say that December '65
Was the last time he was ever seen alive.
It was U.S. Army lies that caused him to decide
To leave his old top sergeant and fight on the other side.

Was he lonesome for his homeland far away?
Fighting with his new companions night and day?
In the base and jungle camps they tell about a man
Sharing hardships with his comrades fighting on the other side.

It was in the month of April '68,
In the Delta land he met a soldier's fate.
He fought to his last breath and he died a hero's death,
And he wore the black pajamas of the People's NLF.

Well it's now that poor soldier's dead and gone.
His comrades and his friends are fighting on.
And when the people win, of their heroes they will sing,
And his name will be remembered with the name of Ho Chi Minh.

Contributed by Riccardo Venturi - 2005/11/13 - 14:50

Language: Italian

Versione italiana di Riccardo Venturi
13 novembre 2005

Venite ad ascoltare una storia che vi racconto,
di un giovane soldato che ben rammenterete.
Morì nel Vietnam, nel delta del Mekong,
coi sandali ai piedi ed un fucile in mano.

Mi chiedo, qual era il suo nome ?
Mi chiedo, da quale città veniva ?
Mi chiedo se i suoi figli capivano perché
doveva combattere e morire in quel modo.

Dicono che nel dicembre del ‘65
fu l’ultimo periodo in cui lo si vide vivo.
Furono le bugie dell’esercito USA che gli fecero decidere
di lasciare il suo vecchio sergente maggiore e combatter dall’altra parte.

Aveva nostalgia della sua terra così lontana,
mentre combatteva giorno e notte coi suoi nuovi compagni ?
Nella base e nella giungla si racconta di un uomo
che divideva le pene coi suoi compagni, combattendo dall’altra parte.

Accadde nell’aprile del ’68,
nel delta del Mekong incontrò il destino del soldato.
Combatté fino all’ultimo e morì da eroe,
e indossava le divise nere dei Vietcong.

Beh, ora che questo povero soldato è morto e sepolto,
i suoi compagni e i suoi amici continuano a combattere.
E quando il popolo vince, canta i suoi eroi
e il suo nome sarà ricordato assieme a quello di Ho Chi Minh.

2005/11/13 - 16:43

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