• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

WWII vet recalls his jeep ride behind enemy lines

DAVID SETTLES, who lives in Versailles, proudly wears a hat covered with medals, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, earned for his service and sacrifices during World War II. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Versailles resident David Settles vividly remembers driving the lead jeep during a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines on April 12, 1945. "I was shot eight times and I had two jeeps destroyed from under me during that drive across the Ruhr Pocket," said Settles. His drive behind enemy lines happened before a push by Allied forces across the Ruhr Pocket that divided and weakened German military forces - thus ending all major organized resistance on Nazi Germany's western front. "It was not an easy job," said Settles of his duties as a jeep driver during World War II. "It turned out to be the hardest job in the battalion," and of his life. Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Robert Simms wanted Settles - a 19-year-old Army infantryman - as his driver on the April reconnaissance mission because he was proficient at map reading. He drove the lead jeep of a three-jeep patrol, which took them into the western front's backcountry on April 12, 1945. "You had an assignment and you had to do it," said Settles, 93. Driving in blackout conditions, Settles lost his first jeep after driving into a "mud puddle" that was actually a bombed-out section of the roadway. He and Lt. Col. Simms then hitched a ride with the other jeeps to get back to camp. After being issued a second jeep and eating some rations, Settles said he and Lt. Col. Simms returned to their mission on backcountry roads when they approached the village of Priori - an ominous looking town - where gunfire erupted all around them. "Every second I was afraid," said Settles, "because I was being shot at in both directions while I was driving." The words that Lt. Col. Simms spoke to Settles remain unforgettable. "Kick it in the ass, Settles. Get through this town," he said. "So I floor-boarded it," recalled Settles. ".All hell broke (loose). They shot at us from everywhere, out of every building. It just tore my jeep up. How we kept from getting killed, I don't know." Having been wounded five times from the gunfire, Settles said he sought shelter under his jeep. He was shot three more times after following Simms and another officer to a position near a shuttered house. He was later rescued by other troops and taken to an aid station. Having survived this two-day reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines while being "scared to death," Settles acknowledged that he's proud of his role in helping defeat the Germans and end World War II, but still wonders, "Why me? Why did they pick me?" Settles, born on Dec. 31, 1923, was attending classes at Campbellsville College "when war broke out." Instead of waiting to get his draft notice, "I just went ahead and joined," he explained. "Everybody, I think, is a little nervous when they go into the military," added Settles. "But I knew it had to be done so I did it." Settles and other young Americans of his generation were being asked to defeat German forces in Europe, but he had no idea that enlisting in the Army would nearly cost him his life on a nighttime reconnaissance mission in Germany. So after being shot eight times and losing two jeeps on his drive behind enemy lines during World War II, Settles says, "I swore that I'd never have anything to do with the military any more. And I got out." He earned a degree and began his career as an eye doctor. Settles, who received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his military service and sacrifices during World War II, eventually joined the Army Reserves. He embraced his opportunity to become a first lieutenant and teach young officers. His duties would take him all over the United States and result in his advancing to the rank of colonel when his military service ended with retirement in 1982 - a notable achievement for this one-time Army private and jeep driver. Honor Flight gives vets a 'welcome home' Three Woodford Countians are among more than 40 World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans being flown to Washington, D. C., on Saturday morning, Aug. 27. When they return to Blue Grass Airport from their all-expenses-paid chartered Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., Lonnie Adkins Jr., Delmer "Bob" Picklesimer, David Settles will receive "a welcome home," which many veterans did not receive when they returned to the states after their military service overseas. Veterans are scheduled to return to Blue Grass Airport at around 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 27. About 1,500 people greeted veterans returning to Kentucky from the most-recent Honor Flight. Honor Flight Kentucky organizers are hopeful the upcoming "welcome home" will include a similar number of well-wishers.

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