Note: This is part four of a series. You can read part one, part two, and part three, here.

Sometimes during hellacious battles, heroes ride in on white horses. Sometimes quiet, unassuming heroes ride into the hell storm of battle in a Navy ambulance, combating tenacious enemy sappers while saving American and indigenous soldiers’ lives.

At midnight on Aug. 22, 1968, hospital Corpsman Third Class Henry Valentino (Val) Santo ended a 12-hour shift at NSA Naval Hospital, Da Nang, across Highway 1, east of MAAG 16.

At that time, NSA Naval Hospital, Da Nang was the largest casualty facility in Vietnam, and according to Santo, possibly the world. By the end of 1968, more than 13,500 casualties would be brought to the facility and treated during the peak year of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, with the highest number of personnel in-country at 543,000. As a Navy corpsman, Santo’s assignment in Receiving 1 was to give life-saving medical treatment, prepare patients for surgical intervention, and provide evacuation and triage in the field.

Exhausted, Santo and a fellow corpsman grabbed cold beers and casually walked over to a bunker on the eastern perimeter that faced east toward the South China Sea.

“I forget the exact time, but it was a beautiful night until the shit hit the fan south of us,” Santo told SOFREP in a recent interview. “We were used to MAAG 16 getting mortared and rocketed every night, but this was different. We knew there was a Green Beret compound down by Marble Mountain, but that’s about all we knew. I had been in there once or twice. I knew they had the songs “Spooky” and “Brown-Eyed Girl” in the club’s jukebox. That’s about it.”

The eruption of violence at FOB 4 was sudden and violent. Santo and his drinking partner quickly scrambled off of the bunker because tracers, both green (from enemy weapons) and red (from U.S. troops), were flying over their bunker. Suddenly, a box ambulance pulled up and the driver yelled to Santo, “Val, they need you.”

Santo had just turned 20 on Valentine’s Day in 1968. He dashed over to the armory, picked up an M-16, two bandoliers of ammunition, a vest, and a helmet, in addition to a pistol that he carried in a shoulder holster.