The National Archives Cartographic Branch holds a large amount of aerial photography taken by the US armed forces. There are 24 million aerial photographs taken by the US from World War II alone. Normally when you open a film can, there’s not much of note on the film reel itself, if anything. But one researcher opened a can to find a message left by a former Air Corps and Air Force officer.

This can (ON065951, CPK18005331) from the series RG 373: Aerial Photographs, 1935–1970, includes an engraving on the film reel which appears to be from Master Sergeant James (Jimbo) M. Chastain, Jr. The etching includes MSG Chastain’s name as well as his unit: East Reconnaissance Group, stationed at Bluie West-8 in Greenland. Bluie West-8 was an auxiliary air base 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle (United States Coast Guard). Established in 1941, the base was renamed Sondrestromfjord Army Air Base in 1945 (Sondrestrom Air Base), so MSG Chastain was likely there during this time period.

The etching refers to his job in camera repair. The note also includes a stylized etching of Chastain’s names as well as the statement: “Now is the time for all good repeat good men to come to the aid of this country”.

RG 373: Aerial Photographs, 1935–1970, ON065951

According to his obituary, James “Jimbo” Chastain was at times stationed in the US and the Southern Pacific, Philippines, Okinawa, Japan and Vietnam in addition to his time in Greenland. He left the US Air Force in 1966 and worked at Hill Air Force Base until he retired in 1981. Chastain was also a Shrine Clown beginning in 1955 and remained one for more than 50 years, winning multiple awards and honors. You can read his full obituary here.

James "Jimbo" Chastain,

We are glad that James left a small note to us at the Archives to remind us of those who worked with these records before we did, as well as giving us a little hint of the history behind it all.

You can learn more about the aerial photography held at the National Archives on our website here. You can also email the Cartographic Branch with any questions at