Charles Browning graduated from Bowling Green High School in 1965, joined the Army in 1969, and graduated from Warrant Officer Candidate School at Fort Wolters, TX, and subsequently the Basic Rotary Wing Aviator Course at Fort Rucker, AL in 1970. After his training, he was deployed to Vietnam where he served in the 173rd Aviation Company (Assault Helicopter), 11th Aviation Battalion (Combat ) at Lai Khe Base camp. During his intense one-year tour of duty, he flew scores of combat assault missions to either insert or extract infantry soldiers who were actively engaged in combat operations. These missions often required landing near enemy positions that were defended by heavy machine guns and other anti-aircraft weapons, and he was shot down several times.
On 8 February 1971, while participating in Operation Lam Son 719, the largest helicopter assault operation of the Vietnam War, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism above and beyond the call of duty. His citation reads in part:
“While on a short final to Landing Zone Blue, his aircraft came under intense anti-aircraft fire. (After taking evasive action) he gallantly remained in the area to direct gunships, thus lessening the danger to following ships. When it appeared that the target was neutralized, he initiated his second approach to the area. Again, on short final and in the landing zone, the aircraft came under intense fire. He guided his aircraft to a touchdown in the landing zone and remained on the ground until the troops and supplies were unloaded. Just as he was about to depart, a burst of fire hit his aircraft, wounding two Allied personnel. With complete disregard for his safety, he remained on the ground while the wounded troops were loaded on the ship.”
He was additionally awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart along with 26 Air Medals.
CWO3 Browning’s service was emblematic of the mystical bond of trust established between helicopter crews and the infantry soldiers who depended upon their selfless dedication and valor. Throughout the Vietnam War, no US helicopter pilot ever refused to go to the aid of US soldiers on the ground, even at the risk of almost certain death.
Charles returned to Bowling Green in 1971, and after graduating from WKU in 1975, began as a residential construction tradesman. His first business venture was “The Wooden Eye” specializing in custom cabinetry. In 1984, he launched Building Systems and Acoustics, a leading designer and installer of commercial cabinetry.