TOPEKA (KSNT) – Retired Colonel Charlie Rayl grew up a farmer’s son in Hartford, Kansas.
The decorated veteran sacrificed more than 30 years of his life to the United States Army; he survived combat in Vietnam and lost friends on the battlefield, yet he still tries to find the positives every day.
After completing ROTC at K-State, Rayl enlisted in the Army in 1964. He was shipped to Vietnam and started as a lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division.
“The lower you are, the less chance of getting shot down,” Rayl said. “Our scout mission was to find the enemy, and sometimes they found us first. They’re pretty good at it.”
Rayl later served as a platoon commander and was shot down 3 times while flying helicopters. He earned a purple heart award when he and his platoon came under fire while flying over a mountainside in Vietnam. He recalled the almost deadly crash.
“They took a poke at me and shot me from the fuel cells on back from the exhaust, back to the tail,” Rayl said. “So I dove it off the side of a mountain and I had a choice between a big rock and a tree and so forth. It wasn’t a pretty situation. But I hung on to it and I called on the way down.”
It was a terrifying moment for Rayl and his crew, but they helped each other get through the attack together.
“There’s humor in combat, believe it or not, there’s humor,” Rayl said. “This guy was my wingman and I called him up, I said red one seven tornado, red, mayday mayday, I’m going down and he says oh Roger red, you’re bloody well cleared to crash.”
After they crashed, the back of Rayl’s helicopter caught on fire. He could hear Vietnam soldiers over the radio celebrating the crash.
“We stumbled along down the side of a mountain,” Rayl said. “Here I am, leading with a .38 caliber pistol, and my back’s hurting, and I’m not feeling very good. And so you could hear the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) chattering behind us about a hundred yards away all excited.”
Charlie and his crew were rescued and made it out alive and, despite his experiences on the battlefield, Rayl lives every day with gratitude.
“There’s nobody dead, nobody’s dying, nobody’s hurt today,” Rayl said. “It’s a good day.”
The retired Colonel cherishes the opportunity he had to serve the United States and fly helicopters. After the Army, he served in the Kansas National Guard where his commitments are remembered in the hall of fame.
We’re highlighting veterans in our community every week just like Charlie. If you’d like to nominate someone for our Veteran Salute Segment, please email producers@KSNT.com with the subject line VETERAN SALUTE. Include the veteran’s name, military branch, rank, years of service, a short biography and a number to contact them.