John Brown went off to war, to fight on a foreign shore,
His mother, sure was proud of him!
He stood so straight and tall, in his uniform and all,
His mother’s face broke out into a grin.
She said, "Son, you look so fine, I'm so glad you're a son of mine—
Make me proud to know you wear a gun.
Do what the captain says, lots of medals you will get,
We'll hang them on the wall when you get home."
As that train pulled out, John's ma began to shout,
Telling everybody in the neighborhood:
"That's my son who's 'bout to go, he's a soldier now, you know,"
She made well sure her neighbors understood.
She got a letter once in a while, her face broke into a smile,
She showed them to the people from next door,
She bragged about her son, with his uniform and gun,
In this thing she called “a good old-fashioned war.”
Then the letters ceased to come, for a long time they did not come,
Ceased to come for about ten months or more.
Then a letter finally came saying: "Go down and meet the train—
Your son is coming home from the war."
Oh, she smiled and went right down, she looked up and all around,
But she could not find her soldier son in sight.
But as all the people passed, she saw her son at last
And when she did, she could not believe her eyes.
Oh his face was all shot off, and his hands were blown away,
And he wore a metal brace around his waist.
He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know,
And she didn't even recognize his face.
She said, "Oh, my darling son, Lord, tell me what they’ve done.
How is it that you came to be this way?"
He tried his best to talk, but his mouth could hardly move,
And his mother had to turn her face away.
"Don't you remember, Ma, when I went off to war,
You thought it was the best thing I could do?
I was on the battleground, you were home acting proud.
You weren’t there standing in my shoes.
And I thought when I was there, ‘Lord, what am I doing here?
Tryin’ to kill somebody or DIE tryin'.’
But the thing that scared me most, when my enemy came close,
I saw that his face looked just like mine.
Then I couldn't help but think, through the thunder roar and stink,
That I was just a puppet in a play.
And through the roar and smoke, that string, it finally broke,
And a cannonball it blew my ass away
When he turned away to go, his mother acting slow,
As she saw that metal brace that helped him stand.
But as they turned to leave, he pulled his mother close,
And he dropped his medals down into her hand.