Twelve Lockheed Neptune twin engine bombers had just been delivered to Clark Field air base. Settle, who was captain of a Navy crew that kept planes in flying condition, said they were prime targets for the Japanese.
“I’m sure they knew of the airplanes because they flew right over,” said Settle, now 88 and a northeast Cobb resident.
Since he couldn’t get back to the bomb shelter, Settle took cover under a truck, waiting for the all-clear signal. But the truck didn’t stop him from being hit with shrapnel from a “weed cutter” bomb in the raid, which destroyed all 12 of the planes.
Settle was taken to a bombed-out Catholic Church, which was serving as a hospital, where he woke up.
“The first thing I saw was a great big, old Japanese,” he remembered. “I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh.’”
Luckily for Settle, he was in an American hospital and the Japanese man was one of the Allies’ prisoners of war.
Skin was grafted onto Settle’s face from the face of a man killed in the attack. He also had shrapnel removed from his arm.
“I still have a piece in my back,” he said. “That was too close to my spine that they couldn’t take a risk of getting it out.”
As a result of the attack, Settle was awarded the Purple Heart by Fleet Adm. William “Bull” Halsey.
Settle, who served from January 1941 until January 1947, is one of the relatively small number of World War II veterans who still live.
In October, he was part of a group of 60 World War II veterans that were taken to Washington as part of a trip sponsored by the Roswell Rotary Club and Coldwell Banker.
“When we went to the Atlanta airport, there must have been 200 people cheering for us,” he said. “Same at Reagan (outside Washington).”
Settle liked seeing the National World War II Memorial, which he had seen on a previous trip to Washington, but he really enjoyed Arlington National Cemetery.
“The changing of the guard at the Unknown Soldier’s tomb, that is fantastic,” he said.
The trip was quite a ways from when Settle grew up the youngest of 11 children in a sharecropping family east of Charlotte, N.C. His mother was Cherokee Indian, while his father was part Bohemian and Italian.
“I still feel like we were just above slavery,” he said.
He fell in love with aviation after hearing about the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby. Settle was able to get into the Navy at 16 using an altered birth certificate.
After serving on two aircraft carriers, spending much of his time working on B-24 bombers, Settle continued his aviation career after he left the military.
He first came to Georgia to work on maintenance for Delta in 1950. After being blamed for a small accident in Florida, he was let go from Delta, but the airline agreed to pay for him to fly anywhere to find a new job. He flew out to Kansas City to interview with TWA, but balked when he heard he would have to train in New York City.
“I don’t know what it was with the rebels back then, but New York was a no-no,” he said.
On the flight back, he was kicked off the plane to make way for a paying customer in St. Louis. Inside the airport he found a newspaper ad seeking workers at Lockheed in Marietta. That began a 34-year career with the company.
“I had a fabulous journey with Lockheed,” Settle said.
The journey took him across the globe, including to Japan, as part of product support for the L-1011 commercial airliner. He also went to Puerto Rico for two years and spent 6 years in Jordan, where he set up Lockheed operations just before retiring in 1987.
“It was the best assignment I ever had,” Settle said.
For many of the assignments, his wife, Lee Settle, who he married in 1972, was along for the ride.
“I’ve enjoyed it very much,” she said. “It really took me out of this world.”
Between Jeff and Lee, who were each married before marrying each other, they have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. For years, Jeff Settle enjoyed fishing and travelling with his wife. In recent years, he has battled cancer twice and had triple heart bypass surgery.
“The last 10 years, it’s been pretty quiet,” Lee Settle said.
Today, expect to see the Settles having a Veterans Day meal at Judy’s Country Kitchen on Sandy Plains Road, not far from their home. Jeff Settle eschews larger veterans’ events like parades.
“It’s as good as any country food I ever ate,” he said. “Last year, I had a free meal and I’ll probably go back this year.”