Charles was born in Chicago, but moved to Cleburne, Texas as a young child.
In 1910 Rosendahl received an appointment to the US Naval Academy in Annapolis from the Cleburne Congressional District. His family had to sell their horse to pay the entrance fee.
In 1914 he was commissioned as an ensign, at the outbreak of WWI.
After the war he returned to the academy to teach, but finding this mundane, he responded to a call to serve aboard airships. He was trained as an aviator at NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey and served aboard the Airship USS Shenandoah, after a violent storm ripped the Shenandoah in half Rosendahl was credited with piloting the front half of the Airship to a cornfield, saving six men.
Rosendahl was later given command of NAS Lakehurst and was on duty when the Hindenburg crashed, killing 26 people. He led the fire and rescue teams that responded to the blaze and testified at the inquiry into the accident, stating, “When I saw the first blaze I knew the ship was doomed and I also thought that there would immediately be an explosion which would flatten every building at the field and kill everybody looking on. I thought it was curtains for all of us.”.
Rosendahl served in WWII as commander of the heavy cruiser USS Minneapolis, which was torpedoed (pictured) by Japanese forces during the battle of Tassafronga in 1942. The ship was badly damaged, losing 80 feet of her bow, but he kept her afloat and guided her to safe harbor. For this action, he was awarded the Navy Cross.
Rosendahl retired from the Navy in 1946 with the rank of Vice Admiral. He was the recipient of a Navy Cross, a Distinguished Service Medal, and a Distinguished Flying Cross.