The engines of a black Boeing RB-50, a large specially equipped B-29 airframe, hummed loudly, secretly flying along the cold Pacific Ocean shore of enemy territory. Within the fuselage, wearing radio headphones, 1st Lt. John “Jack” Carr listened to Beethoven being transmitted from a Soviet weather surveillance tower on the shore of Siberia.
Carr used the Soviet radio signal to triangulate the position of his plane and crew. The mission was simple, to map the shorelines of the communist superpowers. Their mission was top secret. His work in the Air Force would have potentially saved countless U.S. lives and aided in a war that would never happen.
Carr was born in 1931 in Mitchell, South Dakota, to John “Jack” and Sylvie Carr. His family owned a farm in White Lake. Carr was able to enjoy the simple farm life while also taking advantage of the city’s amenities.
“I grew up with a dual lifestyle, half farmer and half city boy,” Carr said. Although the lights of the city were fun at times, Carr said, he preferred the farm life.
As a student at South Dakota State College in Brookings in 1952 Carr was studying agricultural engineering and attending the Reserve Officer Training Corps.
“At that time, I was in Advanced ROTC,” Carr said. “So I was deferred from the army as long as I was studying to be an officer.”
While Carr was attending college, his funding began to run thin, so he went into an Air Force recruiter’s office. He knew he would be drafted and wanted to be able to choose his military occupation before Uncle Sam could assign one.
“He wanted to look at my college records, and I was studying agricultural engineering,” Carr said. “So I had all these math courses, and he said you’re exactly what we’re looking for.”
The United States and the South Korean government had entered into a war with the communist Chinese and North Korea in 1950.
Carr entered the Air Force on Jan. 1, 1953. He attended the cadet-training course, (officer basic training) in San Antonio. That same year, the Korean War came to a cease-fire, so Carr was trained to prepare for another possible war with China and the Soviet Union.
Carr finished 14 weeks of preflight exercises before completing basic navigation in Arlington, Texas, and advanced navigation outside of Sacramento, California. He was sent overseas as a radar navigator bombardier with the 6091st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron.
The 6091st was stationed at Yokota Air Base, west of Tokyo.
Carr was only a child during World War II. The United States had vilified the Japanese people and their culture to further the war effort.
“I had been raised (to believe) how bad the Japanese were. That they were awful people, very dirty and mean,” Carr said. “But in Japan I found that I had a great deal of respect for the Japanese people. They are very honest, and they work hard. Their military had a code of (conduct called) ‘Bushido,’ and they tried to instill that into the people. But the average Japanese young man loves to party.”
Carr studied Zen Buddhism, enjoyed the food and embraced the culture of the Japanese people.
But during the duty hours, life was no party. The missions of the 6091st were top secret. Many missions, even after 65 years, remin classified.
“Our primary job was mapping,” Carr said.
Unlike the drab green color of other units, the Boeing RB-50 planes flown by the 6091st were painted black, because of their night missions.
They employed cameras so advanced for the time that they could “take a picture with that, blow it up and you could identify a friend on the ground from 28 miles,” according to Carr. “We had countermeasures and all kinds of specialized equipment on these planes.”
Russian forces had destroyed two of the three advanced cameras. One was blown up while on the ground in Germany; Soviet MiGs shot the second one down over the Baltic Sea; the third, and last, camera was used by Carr and his crew.
The 6091st flew along the coastlines of communist China and the former Soviet Union, taking photos that would later be analyzed by cartographers. The finished results were maps that gave elevations with margins of error down to 1 foot. The maps were used by the Department of Defense to plan invasions should war break out between the Unites States and the Soviet Union or China.
Other missions involved the study of fallout clouds. As the United Stated detonated atomic and hydrogen bombs in the Pacific Ocean, Carr and his team photographed and studied the weather’s control of the nuclear fallout.
Should a war have broken out with the communist superpowers, bomb placement would depend on how that fallout could be better utilized to settle in populated areas, potentially killing millions over several miles of territory.
Three of the specialized RB-50s flew in a triangular formation. The target settled in the middle of the formation, Carr said.
“Three planes would be at 120 degrees apart,” Carr said. “We had special cameras filling the whole side of the airplane to take pictures of the initial burst. Then we would fly 10 minutes, keeping the leading edge of the cloud under our camera.”
The planes then circled around while maintaining the formation, keeping the cloud on film until it dispersed, he said.
“The weather people had calculated the wind speeds before that,” Carr said. “Then we did this photography. They told us the work that we accomplished was good enough that they never had to do it again. They got what they wanted. This is the cold-blooded time in our history.”
Carr doesn’t dwell on the moral ramifications of what might have happened if his unit’s work ever needed to be used.
“I was a young man,” Carr said. “It was just war to me. People say we were brainwashed, but at the time we didn’t have any actual numbers. We guessed the Chinese population at 850 million. We guessed the Soviet population at 220 million. You add those two together, you have over a billion people. At that time, we were a country of 130 million people. There’s no way we would have taken them in a ground war and won. The only way to win was to use these fearsome weapons and have the downfall of radioactivity drift into the most populated areas. And we would have destroyed the Chinese.”
Carr and his unit were the first line of defense if the communist superpowers attacked. The possibility of such an attack was always present in the minds of those who manned the line.
“Japan was part of the first line of defense,” Carr said. “Along with Okinawa and the Philippines. Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam were our first line of offense to take the war back to the enemy.”
The Cold War continued until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 – not from bombs or bloodshed but from inner governmental corruption and economics.
Carr returned home in April 1957. He went back to school and finished college in 1959. He met the love of his life, Rosemary. They have been married for 60 years and have two children, Stacey and Brian.
He worked as a roadmaster for the Milwaukee Road, updating rail switches. He worked as a foreman for Fisher Body, manufacturing car bodies for General Motors in Oakland, California.
He worked for Hubbard Milling Co. and was transferred to Buffalo, where he still lives with Rosemary today.