Buffy Sainte-Marie wrote Universal Soldier as a 22-year-old, describing it as "a song of war and peace, but mainly as a song of personal responsibility." One source claims that it was inspired by a 1963 incident in which Sainte-Marie "witnessed wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam at a time when the U.S. government was denying involvement." It was first heard on her debut album, 'It's My Way.'
In the UK, Donovan's cover popularized the song. It was the title of his extended play [EP] album that also featured The War Drags On . The EP’s liner notes offered some of Donovan's thoughts on war, including: "I've seen the advertisement 'It's A Good Life In Today's Modern Army''beside photographs of mutilated Vietnamese children." His version entered the U.S. Pop chart on September 25, 1965, the same day as a competing version by American Glen Campbell. Campbell's version eventually peaked at #45, Donovan's at #53.
Sainte-Marie was born on February 20, 1941 on a Cree Indian Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada. She grew up in Maine, graduated cum laude from the University of Massachusetts and went on to earn a PhD in Fine Arts. Self-taught on guitar and piano, she began writing songs and performing as part of the early '60s folk scene. In New York she appeared alongside fellow performers such as Patrick Sky while in Toronto her contemporaries included Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.
Among Sainte-Marie's most popular compositions are Until It's Time For You To Go, recorded by Elvis, Neil Diamond and Barbra Streisand to name but a few, and 1982s Up Where We Belong, the Academy Award winning #1 hit for Joe Cocker and Jenifer Warnes (from the film 'An Officer and a Gentleman'). She continues to write and record, and in 2009 released a CD/DVD package entitled 'Running For The Drum.