Being a red-hot fighter pilot, however, was absolutely no use to him as he lay shivering in the Czechoslovakian forest. He knew he would die if he didn't get some food and shelter soon. “I knew where the German field was because I'd flown over it, so I headed in that direction to surrender. I intended to walk in the main gate, but it was late afternoon and, for some reason, I had second thoughts and decided to wait in the woods until morning.
While I was lying there, I saw a crew working on an Fw 190 right at the edge of the woods. When they were done, I assumed, just like you assume in America, that the thing was all finished. The cowling's on. The engine has been run. The fuel truck has been there. It's ready to go. Maybe a dumb assumption for a young fellow, but I assumed so. So, I got in the airplane and spent the night all hunkered down in the cockpit.
Before dawn, it got light and I started studying the cockpit. I can't read German, so I couldn't decipher dials and I couldn't find the normal switches like there were in American airplanes. I kept looking, and on the right side was a smooth panel. Under this was a compartment with something I would classify as circuit breakers. They didn't look like ours, but they weren't regular switches either.
I began to think that the Germans were probably no different from the Americans in that they would turn off all the switches when finished with the airplane. I had no earthly idea what those circuit breakers or switches did, but I reversed every one of them. If they were off, that would turn them on. When I did that, the gauges showed there was electricity on the airplane.
I'd seen this metal T-handle on the right side of the cockpit that had a word on it that looked enough like 'starter' for me to think that's what it was. But when I pulled it, nothing happened. Nothing. But if pulling doesn't work, you push. And when I did, an inertia starter started winding up. I let it go for a while, then pulled on the handle and the engine started. The sun had yet to make it over the far trees and the air base was just waking up, getting ready to go to war. The Fw 190 was one of many dispersed throughout the woods, and at that time of the morning, the sound of the engine must have been heard by many Germans not far away on the main base. But even if they heard it, there was no reason for alarm. The last thing they expected was one of their fighters taxiing out with a weary Mustang pilot at the controls. Carr, however, wanted to take no chances.
The taxiway came out of the woods and turned right towards where I knew the airfield was because I'd watched them land and take off while I was in the trees. "On the left side of the taxiway, there was a shallow ditch and a space where there had been two hangars. The slabs were there, but the hangars were gone, and the area around them had been cleaned of all debris.
I didn't want to go to the airfield, so I plowed down through the ditch, and when the airplane started up the other side, I shoved the throttle forward and took off right between where the two hangars had been.” At that point, Bruce Carr had no time to look around to see what effect the sight of a Focke-Wulf erupting from the trees had on the Germans. Undoubtedly, they were confused, but not unduly concerned. After all, it was probably just one of their maverick pilots doing something against the rules. They didn't know it was one of OUR maverick pilots doing something against the rules.
Carr had problems more immediate than a bunch of confused Germans. He had just pulled off the perfect plane-jacking; but he knew nothing about the airplane, couldn't read the placards and had 200 miles of enemy territory to cross.
First, he had to learn how to fly the plane. “There were two buttons behind the throttle and three buttons behind those two. I wasn't sure what to push, So I pushed one button and nothing happened. I pushed the other and the gear started up. As soon as I felt it coming up and I cleared the fence at the edge of the German field, I took it down a little lower and headed for home. All I wanted to do was clear the ground by about six inches, and there was only one throttle position for me: full forward.”
“As I headed for home, I pushed one of the other three buttons, and the flaps came part way down. I pushed the button next to it, and they came up again. So I knew how to get the flaps down. But that was all I knew. I can't make heads or tails out of any of the instruments. None. I can't even figure how to change the prop pitch. But I don't sweat that, because props are full forward when you shut down anyway, and it was running fine.”
This time, it was German cows that were buzzed, although, as he streaked cross fields and through the trees only a few feet off the ground, that was not the intent. At something over 350 miles an hour below tree-top level, he was trying to be a difficult target, but as he crossed the lines, he wasn't difficult enough.
When he hopped over the last row of trees and found himself crossing his own airfield, he pulled up hard to set up for landing. His mind was on flying the airplane. “I pitched up, pulled the throttle back and punched the buttons I knew would put the gear and flaps down. I felt the flaps come down, but the gear wasn't doing anything. I came around and pitched up again, still punching the button. Nothing was happening and I was really frustrated.“
He had been so intent on figuring out his airplane problems, he forgot he was putting on a very tempting show for the ground crew. “As I started up the last time, I saw the air defense guys ripping the tarps off the quad .50s that ringed the field. I hadn't noticed the machine guns before, but I was sure noticing them right then.”
“I roared around in as tight a pattern as I could fly and chopped the throttle. I slid to a halt on the runway and it was a nice belly job, if I say so myself.” His antics over the runway had drawn quite a crowd, and the airplane had barely stopped sliding before there were MPs up on the wings trying to drag him out of the airplane by his arms.
Then they started pulling on me because they still weren't convinced I was an American. I was yelling and hollering; then, suddenly, they let go, and a face drops down into the cockpit in front of mine. It was my Group Commander, George R. Bickel. ‘Bickel said, Carr, where in the hell have you been, and what have you been doing now?”
Carr finished the war with 14 aerial victories after flying 172 missions, which included three bailouts because of ground fire. He stayed in the service, eventually flying 51 missions in Korea in F-86s and 286 in Vietnam, flying F-100s. That's an amazing 509 combat missions and doesn't include many others during Viet Nam in other aircraft types.