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In the conversation, Wayne Curto, war veteran, business networking expert, and founder of the Sunrise Networking Group, talks about what it was like being in the Vietnam War and his relationship with the Vietnamese people. He also discusses how relationships can allow you to enjoy life on a whole new level.

In This Episode

  • What it’s like to have a passion to fight for your country
  • Developing unlikely relationships with the Vietnamese people
  • How relationships open doors to an enjoyable life


Charles: So, you wanted to see action.

Wayne: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Charles: You wanted to be on the frontline?

Wayne: I felt indestructible, yeah.

Charles: Really?

Wayne: So, I said, “Where’s all the action?” and they said, “Oh, you don’t want to go to the CAP unit because they got 50% mortality rate.” I go, “Wow. Hoo, 50%. Okay. Well, that gives me one out of two chances.” I’m feeling pretty lucky, so I volunteered for the CAP units, the Combined Action Platoons. There was only 3% of all the Marines that were in Vietnam, that went through Vietnam who were in the CAP, Combined Action Platoons, but we had 43% of all kills, so we saw a lot of action.

Our job was to live with the villagers. We ran patrols of their Popular Force Troops, which are like their National Guard, so we trained them. We ran patrols with them during the day. We ran ambushes at night. We helped them build churches and schools, so we gathered intelligence. When I went to the village, I had also volunteered for Vietnamese language school, so I went to language school for months and graduated number two out of that class of 62 people.

Charles: How difficult was that to pick up?

Wayne: Vietnamese is not easy. I’ve been back to Vietnam twice this past six months. I went in November. It’s the first time back there since 1969, and then I liked it so much that I went again back in March, and I’m scheduled to go back in November. We spend a lot of time there in November, and so I study Vietnamese every day now …

Charles: How cool.

Wayne: … when I’m driving.

Charles: Just to grow yourself.

Wayne: Just so when I go over there …

Charles: Just to improve.

Wayne: … I could talk to them. That’s what really got me close to Vietnamese people when I was there in ’67, ’68.

In ’68, just before the Tet offensive, I think it was January 7th, yeah, so January 7th. There was 18 Marines and 29 Popular Force Troops that we were training and we got overrun by 500 ground troops. They killed nine Marines, which … 50%, right, so I was on the good side of that one, and they captured two Marines. They escaped about four weeks later when the guard fell asleep and they left [inaudible 00:02:58] for dead. I was laying on roll of barbed wire and I was bleeding everywhere and they’ve been throwing grenades at me all night. The area beside us was mine, but we didn’t have the detonators. The mines were there, so they knew something was in there. They were on the other side of some other wire throwing grenades at us and firing machine guns and all that stuff.

Charles: Did you feel any fear throughout that time?

Wayne: Here, I got to tell you. I knew I was dead. It was monsoon time, so it was probably like 55 degrees. It’s raining and I’m wet and I’m scared. I just turned 19. I’m shaking everywhere, and then they dropped a block of C4 down the wall right by my head. I’m listening to the fuse burn and I knew it’s all over. I was in front of God just talking to Him, tell Him, “Hey. You know, I’m 19. I know there’s some things I haven’t done right, and I’m just really sorry for my sins,” and the fuse goes. It doesn’t blow up. At that moment, I had a total peace of my whole body, and I was told that I was going to live that night.

Charles: How cool is that.

Wayne: We lay in the wire and anything didn’t matter. My whole body was warm after that. I had a total peace. All of a sudden, I’ve got a guy in my legs that also climbed in. The barbs are sticking in my leg while he’s laying on top of me, on top of my legs. He couldn’t move because any movement, they would all start firing. Because I had to move a little bit and, all of a sudden, they started firing and I said, “Don’t move.”

I noticed after a couple hours, there was a guy coming through the rice paddy, real slowly because like so we did have a mine and he’s walking really slowly. He walks up to me, he holds the rifle at my head and …

Charles: Play dead?

Curto: … I played dead. That’s the way I made it out, all of us did, because we were all bleeding. One guy gotten a concussion from them throwing the concussion grenades at us.

They left, and then we heard an American’s voice. It was another one of our guys talking to Vietnamese, and so we hollered out. That’s how we got out of the wire. He came and helped us pull the wire apart and get out, then we had to pick up all the body parts for all the Marines. We have Marines with no head, no legs, put them on a cart.

Charles: Now what does that do to you psychologically?

Wayne: Well, anybody to go through that gets pretty well screwed up, you know.

Charles: But for you to take trips back to Vietnam, to this place, that was … I mean more or less it kind of sounds like a little bit of a nightmare.

Wayne: I really got to know the people and laugh with them and I really learned to love them.

Charles: That’s really cool. Now, do you attribute most of your training to those tapes?

Wayne: First one, then I never stopped. After that, it was like … I’ve listened to all the greats. I’ve got so many cassettes at home I could fill bookshelves …

Charles: Of different people.

Wayne: … of all the different people that I’ve listened to.

I used to jog continually. I used to run six miles a day, and all I would do is listen to tapes, so I memorized the James Rollins series. I listened so many times that eventually the tapes won’t run anymore. But I never liked working for anybody else.

Charles: You always wanted to-

Wayne: Somebody else came along, if you didn’t treat me right, I was going someplace else. I went to work for another company, it was pretty big, and then I started my own stuff again.

After doing a couple different publications, I got tired of doing advertising and, in 1999, I went into financial services. If you look behind me, you can see all the awards that I won there the first five years I was there.

I hated that business, but I started the PocketSavers because I had to figure out … I had all these friends, but nobody wanted to do business with me in financial services because I’ve been doing advertising for 25 years, so why would they give me money?

Charles: Why are you, all of a sudden, moving? Yeah.

Wayne: Yeah. So they say, “When you’ve been in financial services for three or four, five years, maybe we’ll give you some business,” so I had to create a market.

I went and got a suite at the Palace, and I got a couple other guys come in with me on it. I got a tenth share, so it wasn’t like I bought … we got a whole suite. That was like $75,000 for the year. But I bought a 10% interest and split it with a couple other guys, and then we started bringing people. Then this one guy told me, says, “You got to start a networking group. You know everybody.” I said, “Okay, well, I can do that.” Then I can get all these people to bring people to these events, and then I can get them as clients.

That worked fantastic until probably about five years ago when the industry, the financial service industry, changed so much the compliance was … It just became work. It wasn’t fun anymore. You couldn’t communicate with your clients, and you had people checking you. It was just so over-regulated that I hated it and I thought, “You know what, I can’t get up and go to work anymore. I don’t want to do … I hate this business,” but I liked the networking business.

At the time, I had, oh, I don’t know, maybe seven or eight groups. I had a business coach that said to me, who was in the group, and he said, “You know,” he says, “you’ve made this a hobby, so why don’t you make it a business.” He said, “You really got something here.” I went, “Okay, so I didn’t like the other thing. My wife’s freaking out because she’s, ‘Well, how are we going to pay the bills?'” I said, “Well, we do have some money come in from the networking and if I make it a business, I can really make it into something.”

About five years ago, I decided to go full-time with the networking and I tell everybody this is my retirement job. Instead of being a greeter at Wal-Mart, I run the SNG. It is hard work, but to me, it’s not hard work. I love what I do. This mess that you see on my desk and stuff because all this stuff has got to be done, but I like doing it.

Every Wednesday, I play 27 holes of golf. We have our golf league in the evening, so I play in that, I run that. But I have another golf league with some old guys that are retired and we play golf. It’s a traveling club, actually, and so we club it around [inaudible 00:10:15] I got him into it so he starts doing it, too. I play 27 holes every Wednesday. I take probably three weeks of vacation in November, three in December, warm places because I don’t like the cold. I travel. My wife’s a flight attendant, so I fly free to a lot of places.

Charles: Oh. How cool is that. Yeah.

Wayne: But when I’m here, I put the time in. We do all kinds of things. We charter a boat, I charter a yacht once a year, like June first. We’ve got the Ovation that’s 138-foot yacht, three stories high. We’ll put about 200 people on there. We do a lot of stuff for the Comedy Castle. I was there couple times a year.

Charles: Yeah, Mark Ridley?

Wayne: Mark Ridley. He’s a buddy of mine. This last event we had, we had 220 people there. We’ll have 300 people there in October, and so all ways for people to network.

Our whole networking program is different than like, for instance, the other leaders, BNI or LBN. They focus on their little chapters. With us, when you join the SNG, you’re actually joining the whole organization. When I put it together, I put it together as business people just getting together for breakfast and doing events. We actually become the event planner for our members. We have Tiger Club Nights where I’ll go to the Tiger Club. I’ve already made arrangements with my account rep, so if you’ve got clients and you wanted … and people like to hang out with successful people.

Charles: For sure.

Wayne: If you call up some of your friends, some of your business clients, say, “Listen, we’re going to go to the Tiger Club.” Well, most people haven’t been in the Tiger Club. It’s an exclusive inside Comerica Park. They got Cigar Bar, they got the whole… It’s a actual country club up there. You’ve been in there before?

Charles: Yeah.

Wayne: Okay. So you know what it’s like up there, right?

Charles: Yeah.

Wayne: Well, most people have never been there. Now they have an opportunity to buy the standing-room only ticket, come into suite holder’s entrance they’re not with the riff raff, so you get to experience that and network with the other people that are there. They’re getting exposed to people from all over in all kinds of different industries.

Some of the best parts about the SNG, first of all, we act as event planners. Secondly, you get to hang around with successful people, like Mike Palazzolo and Aaron Vandemark from the Melting Pot. Bob Chapa who’s got the number one Signarama in international [inaudible 00:12:58]. These are all members. You get to hang with people that you wouldn’t normally get in anytime with and it gives people an opportunity to be able to network. Now, we’ve got Title Connect came through with us.

We’ve got the Picnic Deck. For an individual businessman, let’s say he’s got 10 clients he wants to take out to the Deck, you’ve got to have a minimum of 150 people. My job is to make sure I get 150 people there so that you can bring your 10 people and have a summer picnic, or bring your employees and have a summer picnic because we’re all doing is a coop, right? Comedy Castle. You can buy a table of 10. We got a special deal from Mark $5 a person. It’s almost free.

Charles: Yeah, $5.

Wayne: Yeah. If you get a table of 10, that’s 50 bucks. We bring the house down.

We also set up a networking hour a head at Kitty Corner, another one of the buildings there. One of the fellows he has a office there. Then we have Sopranos Catering came and provided the food so they came through. We also got free parking there because if you get there early you park at his place. Got a big parking lot at the back. Mark Besh from Visual Impact is the one that helped us with that one.

My job is try to put all these events together. We’ve got two golf leagues. We got a golf league up here in Rochester. We went down in Livonia. I met the best people in Metro Detroit, our SNG members, and they’re my friends. I get to hang out with [inaudible 00:14:45] that’s the exciting part is I never have a dull moment. My life is full every single day. We have stuff going all the time.

Some people come in and they say, “Oh, my God. I don’t know if I can’t do all this stuff.” Don’t. Do the things that you can fit in. The things that we have, the golf leagues, the bocce, the bowling and all the mixers and the Tiger Clubs and the picnics and the yacht and all that kind of stuff, you don’t have to do it all.

The only person that has to do it all is me, but I like doing it all, right? So even now, even with our [inaudible 00:15:15] and everything else, because I’m doing a little bit more traveling, I can assign that to somebody so I don’t have to be there. It’s starting to work out really great and I’ve got some of the best people, some of the best business people in the Metro Detroit are in the SNG. I get to hang out with these people and the members get to hang out with them. The members get to meet people. They go, “Oh, I met this guy, I met that guy. I get this.”

That’s part of the draw of being here. But people have to be committed at participating at some level. We do have some people in the SNG that just go to the twice-a-month breakfast and still make a lot of money. They don’t want to do anything else because they got a family and that kind of stuff. No problem. We don’t force anybody to do anything. I’m just saying that if you’ve got a business where you need to meet a lot of people, the SNG has got the way to do it.

Wayne Curto

Business Networking Expert

Wayne Curto is a Vietnam War Veteran and Founder of the Sunrise Networking Group headquartered in Shelby Township, Michigan

The SNG is the premier business networking group in Metro Detroit. They are a local business network of Michigan business professionals similar to a chamber of commerce. The Sunrise Networking Group has networking groups all over southeast Michigan.

Business development in the modern small business world is based upon referrals, so join them and network after work.

Sunrise Networking Group

Charles Ellison

Author Charles Ellison

I create digital paintings of pop culture, movies, icons and anything that inspires me. Time flies when I’m creating something that begins to take shape. It’s been great transitioning from traditional pencil and paper to work digitally. A tablet and stylus has really brought my artwork to life!

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