Mining industry stalwart Terry Salman surfed waves in the military and business, but remains an enigma

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War is physical hell, but worse can be the psychological torture.

Canadian mining industry stalwart Terry Salman was part of the first U.S. Marines unit to enter a Vietnam combat zone in 1965. A mortar section team leader, Mr. Salman quickly made sergeant. During his one-year tour of duty, he shed 50 pounds from his already lean physique, and his hearing was permanently damaged from mortar fire.

Mr. Salman was frequently on edge in Vietnam. He learned never to accept a drink from a civilian, because it might have crushed glass in it. He also saw it as his duty to impart the same vigilance on his men. He once choked a private who fell asleep on duty, to show him what would be in store if the Viet Cong got hold of him.

Then there was the ghostly voice of Hanoi Hannah over the airwaves, the infamous North Vietnamese propagandist who questioned the morality of GIs, urged them to go AWOL or even even murder their commanding officers.

“After all these years, I still remember her talking loud and clear, on the carrier, as we slowly and quietly approached Chu Lai, our destination in central Vietnam,” writes Mr. Salman, 80, in his memoir, What We Give. “Hanoi Hannah was telling us we were going to die.”

Mr. Salman, who was inducted into the Order of Canada earlier this month, comes across as a profoundly decent, hard-working and principled man. He recounts admonishing his troops for dumping their candy wrappers out the back of a military vehicle to kids. To teach his men a lesson about karma, he forced them to give the kids all their food and money.

Mr. Salman’s memoir leaves you wanting more, but also less. More insight into his psyche, more about his personal relationship and more dirt about the many mining personalities he crossed paths with. As admirable as Mr. Salman’s philanthropy was and is, though, the writing about philanthropy made for a more prosaic reading experience.

More than anything, the book is the story of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things. He couldn’t get in a plane for eight years following the his wartime service. Not only would he eventually get over his phobia, he learned to fly himself.

The chapters on Mr. Salman’s unusual decision to join the Marines, even though he was Canadian, the buildup to Vietnam and his time in combat reel in the reader. A Montrealer by birth, he joined the Marines to prove his worth to his father, after he struggled academically in high school.

But he also did it for practical reasons. Unlike the small Canadian military, which was a peacekeeping force in the 1960s, he joined the U.S. military. Mr. Salman would be part of a massive global operation that was preparing for war.

After his tour was over, future employment with the Marines was guaranteed, given his record. But he chose to go back to school and finish what he started. He got his university degree, which slingshotted him into a career in financial services.

The title of Mr. Salman’s memoirs comes from a Winston Churchill quote that is referenced in the book.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” the Second World War British Prime Minister apparently once said.

However, I could find no record of Mr. Churchill having actually uttered these words, and it’s unlikely he ever did.

“There is no attribution to Churchill in our digital scans of 80 million published words by and about him,” said historian Richard Langworth, of Hillsdale College in Michigan, who has published or edited 10 books on Churchill. “It is a popular example of what the gnomologist Nigel Rees calls ‘Churchillian Drift.’”

The dubious nature of the likely misattributed Churchill quote aside, there is little doubt that Mr. Salman lived by the motto. Not only was he willing to die in combat for a country that he wasn’t even born in, he gave back through decades of philanthropy work. Among his numerous roles were serving as chair of the foundation for St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, raising $36-million for causes such as AIDS research and treatment. He was also chair of the Vancouver Public Library Foundation.

Mr. Salman, an amateur surfer, albeit a not very good one, was someone who caught clean waves in life, and rode them for all they were worth. After he graduated from university, he embarked on a long and tremendously successful career in finance.

He worked in Montreal for investment bank Nesbitt Thomson in the early 1970s, during the city’s golden age as the financial centre of the country. His talent was writing in-depth and independent research reports on transportation companies such as Canadian Pacific.

He caught another wave early by deciding to move to Calgary in 1979. There he worked as an investment banker doing myriad deals in the oil and gas sector.

After Nesbitt was taken public in 1987, Mr. Salman became an overnight millionaire, owing to the equity he owned. When Nesbitt was acquired by Bank of Montreal, Mr. Salman decided to strike out on his own, founding his own investment bank.

In 2003, Salman Partners participated in, and in some cases was the lead bookrunner, in $1.2-billion in financings, a truly impressive figure for a small shop. The firm was known for the quality of its mining research, and for covering companies early that would later become giants, such as Kinross Gold Corp. and First Quantum Minerals Ltd.

By recommending the shares of these companies when few investors had heard about them, Salman Partners also benefited from the likes of legendary New York hedge fund manager John Paulson paying 7 cents a share to trade stock through Salman’s desk.

Mr. Salman also writes about changes in the industry after the great financial crisis of 2008-09 that put pressure on independent investment banks, including technological changes that drove trading commissions to almost zero. But he doesn’t write about the demise of his firm in 2015.

While that chapter of his life was no doubt painful, there was a poetry to the event. While high up in the mountains of British Columbia, he turned over in his head if there was any way to save the firm, and he decided there wasn’t. He does readers a disservice by not writing about it in the book.

There are also fleeting mentions of well-known mining personalities, but the second you think Mr. Salman is going to give you something juicy, you are left hanging.

There’s the obligatory description of Robert Friedland’s unbelievably magnetic personality, and his keynotes that enthrall. There’s mention of people getting on Mr. Friedland’s private jet and not getting off for weeks. Mr. Salman himself rode on the jet across Africa and Australia. He writes that Mr. Friedland “entertained investors like no one I had ever seen before,” yet there are no details. So readers will no doubt wonder what really happened during those flights.

About the closest you get to gossip is the tidbit that mining financier Ross Beaty is a bit of a cheapskate. He didn’t want to pay for valet parking, so he circled the block looking for parking.

There are also glaring omissions on the personal front. Mr. Salman’s divorce from his first wife is given one paragraph.

There’s a fundamental mystery to his personality as well, which he addresses briefly in the book. Author Peter C. Newman once wrote that Mr. Salman came across as aloof in social situations, and maybe that was because of what he’d seen and lived through in Vietnam.

“PTSD was everywhere but we didn’t call it that,” said Mr. Salman in an interview. “It was a sort of mental pain that you buried.”

After the war, Mr. Salman suffered the same ignominy that many Vietnam vets did for decades. They were shunned.

Heartbreakingly, he writes that it would be 40 years before someone thanked him for his service.

Fittingly though, Mr. Salman’s book made Tausi Insider’s bestseller list this past Memorial Day.

“I just thought, you know what, somebody up there is looking after me,” he said. “It was just such a wonderful thing.”

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