Submitted by: J. Herbert Klein

Category: Books

In the autumn of 1942, I was a 21-year-old Army private assigned to the 18th Air Force Base Unit of the Army Air Corps in Culver City, California – commonly referred to as the First Motion Picture Unit.
The base adjutant was Ronald Reagan, then an Army Lieutenant and later a Captain. Reagan told me that General Henry “Hap” Arnold, head of the Army Air Forces, had established the unit to produce compelling films to train, educate, and motivate the troops.
Captain. Reagan explained that I’d been sent to the unit because of my drafting abilities and photographic memory. He then assigned me to a top-secret project – to produce an exact scale topographical map of California.
Once completed, technicians would film the map from the point of view of a pilot. Flight instructors would show the film to new pilots so they’d know what to expect when flying over the state.
My team of mapmakers did a phenomenal job. Not only did the crewmembers manage to finish the project ahead of schedule, they also made me look like a star. The brass decided I was suited for bigger and better things.
I was at the First Motion Picture Unit for less than a year when I ended up working in military intelligence in Washington, DC. It wasn’t until many years after I’d left the service that I learned how my team’s map of California helped win the war.
Our project was the beginning of the map program, where topographical maps were constructed and then filmed from a pilot’s point of view. This led to one of the most top-secret undertakings of the war – Project 152.
In 1944, a crew of over a hundred special effects people took over an entire sound stage and began to build a 100-square-foot topographical map of Honshu, the main island of Japan. For centuries, Japan had functioned as a closed society. For this reason, very little was known about the country’s topography.
Captain Clifford Herberger, an aerial photographer who had flown over Japan before the war, mentioned that from the air the Japanese coastline looked similar to the coast of California. He suggested taking aerial photographs of the California coastline, which were then used to create a photographic map that approximated the Japanese island by 80-90%. With this as a guide, and using my topographical map of California as reference, over 100 individuals worked to create a scale model, lifelike 3-D map of Japan – complete with rivers, mountains, rice paddies, buildings, and other features.
The film crew simulated a pilot flying over the area from thirty thousand feet. Instructors showed the film to Army aircrews before they took off from the Mariana Islands in the South Pacific for bombing raids of Japan. After the pilots returned, they said the film had made it seem as if they’d been there before.
Within weeks after the pilots began to view the flight simulations produced in Culver City, the war was over. I feel honored that my team’s contributions played a part in our victory during August 1945.

About the author:

J. Herbert Klein served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942-1945. He went on to an impressive career as a film producer, entrepreneur, impresario, and inventor. One of the oldest members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Klein is still active in the entertainment business as executive producer of International Film Arts ( – a production company that develops projects for film, television, and print.

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