This week, for our 50th Anniversary, we begin to document the story of us with a short series of episodes based on interviews conducted this spring of former directors and staffers. Unfortunately, our first director, Dr. Orley B. Caudill, Sr., passed away in 2015 at the age of 97. But luckily for us, his son, Brandt Caudill was willing to share his memories of his father and he had plenty of good stories!
Orley Caudill was working as a grocery store manager in Wenatchee, Washington when WWII erupted and soon found himself in the Army, guarding the Pacific coastline from possible Japanese invasion. He transferred into the Army Air Corp and served in the Pacific Theater as a navigator, bombardier, and radar operator. Caudill saw plenty of action. On one mission, his crew’s B25 bomber limped home with 450 bullet holes!
After the war, Caudill remained in the Air Force and flew night bombing missions during the Korean War. On one mission, their pilot was awarded the medal of honor and Caudill a bronze star. Caudill became an Air Force Public Information Officer and was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base for several years. He then served in Paris, taking his young family with him. Later, he served in the Pentagon before a final tour of duty in Vietnam. All told, he flew 120 combat missions!
By the time Caudill retired from the Air Force after 27 years, he had earned a Ph. D. in Political Science and moved his family to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to teach at USM in 1968. In 1971, he became the first director of the newly formed Mississippi Oral History Program and kept a grueling pace of 100 interviews per year until he retired in 1986.
In this episode Brandt Caudill recounts his father’s 27 year career in the U. S. Air Force. He recalls his father’s decision to move to Hattiesburg and teach Political Science at USM. Caudill also remembers his father’s love for oral history and the famous Mississippians he interviewed. Finally, he reflects on his father’s natural curiosity and zest for life throughout his 97 years.