Memoirs, Or Shadows Of What Has Been
By Peter Landry
TOC


Chapter Nineteen, Cobourg, 1968

On March 16th, 1968, angry and frustrated men of Charlie Company entered the Vietnamese village of My Lai. It was to be a "search and destroy" mission. The search turned up women, children and elderly; no mind, the company thought to carry out the "destroy" part of their mission; it is estimated that 300 were killed by the Americans. It became known as the "My Lai massacre." When the news got out, and it took a number of months before doing so, public support for the U.S.'s involvement in Vietnam was undermined. Disturbances were now (March of 1968) breaking out on university campuses all over with the theme being Afrocentrism, Black power and the Vietnam War. A new era of militant student activism had arrived on college campuses throughout the U.S. Rallies and student protests were at this point filling up the evening newscasts. Often such protests led to sit-ins and laying siege to administration buildings. By the end of March, President Lyndon B. Johnson signalled he had had enough by announcing he would not seek re-election.

The Vietnam War was so prominent in the background through these years that I should give a larger rundown on how it developed and grew, and was, eventually, after many years, wound-up with the United States ignominiously withdrawing from Vietnam.

French Indochina was part of the French colonial empire in southeast Asia. Enough to say, that in 1941, the Viet Minh, a communist army led by Ho Chi Minh, began a revolt against French rule; it became known as the First Indochina War. In 1949, effectively, Vietnam was split into North Vietnam with its capital Hanoi and South Vietnam with its capital Saigon. The North was to be Communist; the South anti-Communist. In 1950, two Viet Minh battalions attacked a French base (the French were still trying to run things). With a view to helping the French, in that year, President Truman sent United States military advisers to Vietnam. The two Vietnam parts, each with separate administrations that held radially different views as to how to run things, were insoluble. Attacks were made by one part against the other. In 1955, President Eisenhower sent more "advisers." In March of 1960, he sent over 3,500 American soldiers, so concerned, as the Americans were through the years, that Communism would extend itself through southeast Asia.

(I never could understand the American policy on how to deal with Communism. It was the same in its dealings with Cuba, for example. If Communism was/is such a dangerous political philosophy because it wrecks both a country's economy and its people: should it not strangle itself, quite on its own. Indeed, as history tells, that is how it turned out. Yet, much treasure and many lives -- American and Vietnamese -- were, sadly, wasted in Vietnam during the 60s and early 70s.)

The new, young president who came to the American helm in 1960, picked up his predecessor's policy. In November of 1961, John F. Kennedy sent 18,000 military "advisers" to South Vietnam. The year 1960 marks the time when the Americans joined the Vietnam War. For the next three years, or so, it would not appear there was much opposition expressed by the American people. Then 1964 arrived. In May of that year, students, as many as a thousand, marched through Times Square, New York, some of them burned their draft cards. Other demonstrations were held in such places as San Francisco, Boston and Seattle. It is represented (Wikipedia) that these were the first major student demonstrations against the Vietnam War. In July, the Americans started to announce the injuries and deaths that were occurring in Vietnam. Further news: aircraft from American carriers were bombing North Vietnam. That August, Congress passed a resolution which gave the president broad war powers to deal with North Vietnamese attacks on U.S. forces.

In July of 1965, President Johnson announced his plan to increase the number American soldiers in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000. Also, he announced that the number of men to be drafted per month was going from 17,000 to 35,000. As for the number of American fighting men, the Pentagon told Johnson that if there was to be a major sweep to clear out the Viet Cong forces in South Vietnam the number of troops would have to be increased to 400,000.

By 1966 there were 250,000 American troops in Vietnam; and, U.S. planes were bombing Hanoi and Haiphong. There were more than just American soldiers in Vietnam, there were others. A contingent of the South Korean Army, for example, was there and were responsible for the "Go Dai Massacre." They rolled into Go Dai in 1966 and within an hour 380 unarmed villagers were killed. In August, the House formed a Committee On Un-American Activities and it started to investigate Americans who had aided the Viet Cong, with the intent to make these activities illegal. Anti-war demonstrators disrupted the meeting and 50 were arrested.

Opposition by the American people to the Vietnam War increased in 1967. Thousands, that April, marched in New York and in San Francisco. That summer, China, it was discovered, was giving financial aid to North Vietnam. In the meantime, American causalities were building up. That fall tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters were marching at Washington. It was at this point, it is interesting to see, that President Johnson held a secret meeting with a group of the nation's most prestigious leaders ("the Wise Men"). Johnson wanted advise as to how to best unite the American people behind the war effort. The conclusion was that the American people should be given more optimistic reports on the progress of the war. These optimistic reports immediately came out. One was from Johnson himself, "We are inflicting greater losses than we're taking ... We are making progress (2 months later the Tet Offensive made him regret his words)." On November 21th, 1967, the United States General William Westmoreland told news reporters: "I am absolutely certain that whereas in 1965 the enemy was winning, today he is certainly losing." Not all of the leading men in the Johnson administration agreed with this new approach (mislead the American people). On November 29th, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara announced his resignation to become president of the World Bank. McNamara's action, according to Wikipedia, was due to Johnson's outright rejection of McNamara's recommendations, made that November, to freeze troop levels, stop bombing North Vietnam and hand over ground fighting to South Vietnam. In the meantime, public celebrities such as U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Spock and Allen Ginsberg came out against the Vietnam War; indeed, Spock and Ginsberg were arrested for their protesting activities.

In spite of the administration's assurances in the autumn of 1967, in January of 1968, there began the Tet Offensive on the part of the Viet Cong. It was a series of surprise attacks across South Vietnam. On the 31st, Viet Cong soldiers attacked the US Embassy, Saigon. Then in March, the "My Lai Massacre" unfolded where American troops killed scores of civilians. The story become public in November of 1969 when there was published explicit photographs of dead villagers from My Lai. But let us go back to 1968. That November, the American military strategy changed when it was determined to interdict men and supplies on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, through Laos into South Vietnam. American planes were dropping tons of bombs on Laos. The operation slowed but did not seriously disrupt operations along the trail. Demonstrations were now happening in other parts of the world. For example, in March of 1968, there was a demonstration at London which led to violence: 91 people were injured and 200 demonstrators arrested. At the same time students at Howard University in Washington, D.C., were making their presence felt. It was a signal for renewed militant, student activism; it was occurring at college campuses all over the U.S.

In 1969, the American administration began to withdrawn troops from Vietnam. In July, President Nixon declared his new doctrine, in that the United States expected its Asian allies to take care of their own military defense. This started the "Vietnamization" of the war. Though these were welcomed words from President Nixon, the administration was in no hurry to remove American troops from the conflict in Vietnam. Indeed, on November 3rd, Nixon addressed the nation on television and radio, asking the "silent majority" to join him in solidarity with the Vietnam War effort, and to support his policies. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew denounced the President's critics as "an effete corps of impudent snobs" and "nattering nabobs of negativism." Antiwar demonstrations continued apace across the United States. On November 15th, 1969, at Washington, a quarter to half a million protesters staged a demonstration against the war. Not much deterred, on December 1st, the administration announced that the first draft lottery in the United States was to be held; not since World War II had the American government taken such a step.

I do not remember, when I was starting back to university in 1969, that Canadian students were anywhere near worked up over the Vietnam War, as were their American counterparts, though there were some demonstrations. I think this was so, because Canada did not fight in the Vietnam War and diplomatically it was officially a non-belligerent. There was a small number of Canadians sent over in 1973 to assist the winding down efforts. Nevertheless, the war had considerable effects on Canada because of the thousands of American draft dodgers and military deserters who flooded into Canada. A number of these young Americans were only too happy to stir up Anti-War feelings on Canadian campuses.

We will pick up our story on the Vietnam War in the forthcoming chapters; it continued on through the beginning years of the next decade, leading, eventually to the fall of Saigon as the Communist forces marched into the capital on April 30th, 1975, though it was laid open to such a move when, on March 29th, 1973, the last of the American troops left Vietnam.

As can now be seen, the major stories running in the background in these years were those of the Vietnam War and the student reaction to it. In 1968, there were other notable events. On April 4th, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot dead at Memphis, Tennessee. Riots erupted in major American cities, lasting for several days afterwards. On June 5th, the U.S. presidential candidate, Robert F. Kennedy was shot at Los Angeles; he died the next day. Trudeau Mania broke out in Canada followed by the election of Pierre Elliott Trudeau on April 20th as Canada's 15th Prime Minister. That August, France exploded its first hydrogen bomb. On October 20th, the former U.S. First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy married the Greek shipping magnate, Aristotle Onassis, on the Greek island of Skorpios. The U.S. presidential election was carried out that November with the Republican incumbent, Richard Nixon defeating the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey. At New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University announced it was going to admit women.

To get to more personal matters: In February of 1968, I was transferred from St. Catherines, where I had been for two years, to Cobourg, Ontario. This was a new store that Zellers was building. The new ones were very different from the earlier stores. Zellers was moving to the edges of the cities and building large. They determined to keep up with what was then a developing trend, to build "Big Box Stores" (also known as a "Superstores"). This store was larger than anyone I had ever worked in. They were called the "County Fair" stores. They had extensive departments much as one sees them today (though I believe Zellers gave up their "County Fair" moniker at some point after I left them). The operation required three managers: a general manager and two merchandise managers. I was to be the manager of hard-lines, as opposed to soft lines such as clothing.

I arrived at Cobourg, Monday, February 26th, 1968. It is located located along Highway 401, 95 km east of Toronto. Its nearest neighbour is Port Hope, 7 km to the west. To the south Cobourg borders Lake Ontario. I suppose, at the time, the population could not have been greater than 11,000. It definitely had a small town feel about it.

005NewHouseCobourgSign.jpg

006HouseCobourg.jpg

It was to be a few weeks after I arrived before the new Zellers store at Cobourg had its grand opening. I stayed at a local motel commuting back to St. Catherines to be with Louise and the girls if I should be able to get two days in a row. Up to this point as we moved around, all we ever did was rent places. Suitable rental accommodations at Cobourg, however, at the time, for a family of five, were relatively scarce. There was a new subdivision opening up just southwest of the store. Zellers head office agreed to put up $6,000 upon signing a note, that together with funds from a mortgage soon put us in our new home on 967 Curtis Crs.

That summer Louise's parents, Louis & Elizabeth Theriault drove up from Halifax to visit us (I believe the lady by the car in the photo to the right is Louise's mother, Elizabeth. There is video of that event which I shall try to incorporate at some point in the future. While referring to video: there is one that featured the kids camping at Presqu'ile Park. We were campers back then and so was my brother Joe and his family. They too are in this video; the date was June 28th, 1968.

A couple of other memories of Cobourg: It was there that I bought a new winchester shotgun; joined a club and shot trap and skeet; and went duck-hunting along the lake with certain of my friends. So too at Cobourg, I picked up my theatrical career. It will be remembered that I was acting a couple of years back when at Fredericton. At Cobourg, I joined the cast of a local drama club which was producing Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." I played Doc Gibbs.

It was at Cobourg that I played the stock market for the first time. Somehow I was introduced to a stock broker who had a small office downtown. These were the days that stock prices came out of a glass domed gizmo. It would spit a continuous tape with stock symbols and prices. He was an older gentlemen and genuinely seemed to like me and was anxious to show me how the market worked. He wanted to know whether I could swing a thousand or two. Yes I could get my hands on a little money. He then purchased stock through his house account. On occasion I would go into the broker's office and he and I would check the prices of my stock. It seemed I was making money. I cannot now remember which stocks I played; it was not penny stock but rather well recognized stock. I played only two or three stocks. I was making money. I remember looking at the tape which he would tear off and put into my hands. Oh! Look! Should we not sell and take our gains? Most times my friend would look at me and with a wry smile suggested I hold. Other times, he would agree but the realized gains were immediately put in another stock that he considered a winner. The value of the portfolio moved up very nicely. In connection with this I relate how a couple of the boys from the store and I would often, for lunch hour, go downtown, which is not far from anywhere within Cobourg. We would pile into a booth of the main downtown restaurant, a restaurant next to the broker's office. He generally spotted me in the group as we went into the restaurant. While the boys and I were there at our lunch my broker friend would come in and stroll up to the booth and hand me a piece of the ticker tape. By then I could immediately recognize the stock code and had no problem figuring whether it was losing, holding or moving up. My friend hardly spoke a word, especially, I suppose, because my friends were about. I would look at him quizzingly, and he, without a word, would either nod indicating it was time to sell (this did not happen too often) or slowly shake his head -- meaning I should hold. He then left our company as quickly as he came. I took his advise every time; much to my benefit.

I was generally not happy with the retail business. My unhappiness or malaise developed in St. Catherines. I was then thinking to go back east if I could secure a job with a future in it. My move to Cobourg renewed my interest in the retailing business, as this was a large store with large challenges. My interest, however, started to wane, once again. We entered into the autumn of 1968. For the retail business, this period is a busy and profitable one. I was doing my merchandising thing. One of the items I jumped on was Mattel's Hot Wheels, toy cars. They first came on the market in September of that year. I bought a large number in and developed a large display on one of the counter ends within the toy department. I shall come back to this display before we are finished with this chapter.

Previously I mentioned that I joined a drama club and played a role in its production that year, "Our Town." There was another young man who also was in the play. Unfortunately, I do not remember his name. He had graduated from Dalhousie Law School, I suppose in 1967. He was doing his articles with a local lawyer. We hit it off fairly well. One time while having a beer together, I expressed an interest in how things were when he went to Law School. I remember he was generally impressed with my knowledge of Canadian constitutional law, a knowledge which was likely gained by paying attention to the evening news which I took in daily. At any rate, he encouraged me and could not see that there should be much difficulty with law school, if that is what I wanted to do. The seed was planted. This was the fall of the year and I should advise that my playing of the stock market over the previous ten months with the help of my friend the stockbroker had paid off handsomely. My initial investment of 1 or 2 thousand had turned into a portfolio of $20,000, plus.

And now I come to the time that I abruptly left Zellers in December of 1968. I then had been with Zellers seven plus years. There was an area supervisor who oversaw a number of stores in Ontario, including Cobourg. He would arrive on occasion and give, in his Irish brogue, a critique of the various aspects of the operation. Unfortunately, maybe fortunately, I did not like the man. Most times I would pick up on his suggestions and make changes in, say, a merchandise display. One fateful day -- knowing I now had a little money behind me and knowing, increasingly, that I did not like the constant and long hours of retailing -- I told this unlikable Irishman what I thought of him. We were in front of the Mattel's Hot Wheels display to which I had previously referred. He thought that it was not worth so much space (incidentally, over the next few years "Hot Wheels" would prove to be the hottest toy around). Maybe it should be a full end of dolls, or something else. I asked if he would not mind if he and I could leave the sales floor and go to my office. Both of us travelled along, into my office and I closed the door. I frankly told him that I did not like playing the role as his "bum boy." I was appointed to be the "Merchandise Manager." I then took my leave of the place and never returned. That evening, having written out my resignation letter addressed to the Vice President of Personal located at Montreal, I went to the main post office downtown to mail the letter. I remember thinking that my life was about to take a dramatic turn as I hovered over the mail box with letter in hand. I counted to ten then pushed the letter through the slot. Next day I cashed my stock in and made plans to get myself, Louise and the three girls back to Halifax for Christmas. We travelled by train through the snow, up to Montreal and down through New Brunswick to home turf in Nova Scotia. I remember of thinking this is like Doctor Zhivago, the 1965 movie, as the train clickety-clacked for two days through the countryside covered everywhere with white Canadian snow. In January, I travelled alone back to Cobourg. Within a couple of weeks the furniture was packed and the house sold. As a result, I had a few more thousand to add to my important stash. The yellow AMC Ambassador was filled with odds and ends, just room for the driver. I drove straight, non-stop to Halifax to start in on my new life.

In the short time that I was in Halifax during December of 1968 (before I went back to Cobourg in January to clean things up) I cast about to see if there was work. At Halifax there were two recognized developers by the name of Hardman and Bryson. They were just getting underway in the building of a major shopping center in downtown Halifax, Scotia Square. I am not sure how I ended up dealing with them. They were interested in filling up their new retail place, Scotia Square, with interesting stores -- something new was needed in retailing. I have a copy of a letter which I had written to them and which they had requested so that I might set out my experience and interests. From it we learn that at my last year at Zellers, I had earned the grand sum of $13,000. I gave references: O. Baxter of the Royal Bank, Cobourg and J. Heenan, the mayor of Cobourg; and, Zellers at Montreal. They agreed to pay my expenses to go to Montreal with a view to preparing a report of what existed in the way of separate "Toy-stores," just a toy store, which at the time Halifax did not have. Thus I was able to get my way paid up and back and certain of my travelling expenses covered. It was during this time I took a side trip to Cobourg, where, as I related earlier, I settled up my affairs and drove my car back to Nova Scotia.

I have already told of how I became unhappy at Zellers. Insight may be had as to why I left Zellers by looking to a CV that I had written in 1970, written for some purpose or other (I think in connection with an application for graduate school). I see where I wrote this: "It is difficult for me to explain my feelings that I had prior to leaving Zellers and my reasons for leaving are not the traditional. Certainly Zellers was relatively pleased with my performance, witness my progress with them; but a pervasive feeling of uneasiness and a sense of stagnation came over me. I quote from my letter of resignation: 'A sense of uneasiness has been with me for over a year now ... I have felt unchallenged, static - the wonder of it all has disappeared - things became uninteresting - I had ceased to learn.' These senses that I refer to are deadly ones to a 27 year old, and I decided I had better chase after what I want while still young enough to chase."

In another literary effort, in support of "Woodrow Wilson" scholarship at some US university (I forget which one) I wrote this: "My main intellectual interest lies in the area of man's inter-relationship with one another and it is my belief that his relationships are mainly economic. Some while back, I became aware (quite apart from any reading of Adam Smith) that the relatively smooth running of the whole, is accompanied by the interreactions of millions of individuals, seeking their own self-interest. It is amazing how every person has a little niche in the economic web of life, and that through faith in the interdependent system, each person is able to meet his individual needs. In the pursuit of hierarchical needs, man creates economic activity. Difficulties arise when one tries to explain the workings of this activity, because you must first begin by explaining man's nature and that is no easy task, as the philosophers down through the ages have found. Though it may be, that there is no concise set of laws governing man's nature (at least a set on which we might all agree) -- we will agree, nonetheless, on the critical importance of lending some definition to his economic activity." Twenty or so years later I returned to this very topic and my views have not changed. I must say I was somewhat surprised to see what I wrote in 1970; I didn't think I had such thoughts in me, indeed, I didn't think I was capable of having them or of expressing them (I have been plagued with self doubt throughout my life). The more surprising, is that these views as I expressed were not generally expressed in the halls of learning; for at the time they were all on their knees worshiping statism and "Galbraithian Economics."

Well, we have to close off this rather wordy Chapter. I should observe, for those of you who have been following along, that through the years 1968 and 1969, I did not take many pictures; you will need to forgive me as it seems I was very busy at the time; I will make it up in the years to come.

As for entertainment during 1968: It was the year that Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In came to our Television sets. So too, the very first episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood came to be viewed by our children. Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was released (I was just taken away by this movie). The musical, "Hair" officially opened on Broadway. That December, the film "Oliver!," came to the screen; it had been a stage hit at both London and New York; it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix soared up the charts with two albums. Hendrix was not my cup of tea. The three songs I like best, were: Sittin On The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding, The Unicorn by the Irish Rovers and Hey Jude by the Beatles.


NEXT: [Chapter Twenty, Back To Nova Scotia, 1969]

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2011 (2017)

Peter Landry