the Wanderling

By age 23 John Noble Cumming was a USAAF B-29 Superfortress pilot. As a civilian he had been an artist and muralist assistant for Diego Rivera. Two weeks before his birthday in 1944, Cumming was killed on a bombing run emanating in the China-Burma-India theater on a nearly 3000 mile round trip flight over the Himalayas from India into China then onto Japan.

John Noble Cumming and my uncle were friends, as was Diego Rivera. My uncle, an artist himself like Cumming and Rivera, in the circles he travelled in, he was always bumping into and meeting people of note. Famous authors, famous scientists, famous industrialists, famous actors, famous actresses, and not unusually, other artists. Sometimes he mentioned them, sometimes he didn't. Sometimes I was with him, sometimes I wasn't. Often if I was there, there were introductions, but not always. There were mutual acquaintances between some of them, but not necessarily simultaneously. The oddest of knowing someone between the two us however circulated around Cumming. He was a person not necessarily so much of note in the classical sense for who he was or what he did, but because of being a major yet unheralded focal point for one of the most fascinating aspects in time to ever unfold.

In the years leading toward the Great Depression of the 1930's, as well as afterwards, my uncle had been an up and coming working artist, supporting himself by creating a number of drawings, watercolors, oil paintings, and murals, sometimes on his own, sometimes commissioned. When things got hard and the art portion of the Works Progress Administration, better known as the WPA, came into being he shifted his artistic abilities and income concentration there. Briefly, the WPA was set up as follows:

"The Federal Arts Program was first suggested to President Franklin Roosevelt by George Biddle, who at one time, studied under the renown Mexican muralist Diego Rivera. In a letter to Roosevelt, Biddle suggested that a group of muralists work on the new Justice Department Building in Washington, D.C. Biddle's suggestion helped develop the Public Works of Art Project, known more popularly during the depression era as the WPA." (source)

During that period of his life he met and worked closely with a number of various artists also doing WPA works, artists such as Jackson Pollock and Diego Rivera. In 1939-1940 Rivera had created and completed a series of murals in San Francisco. My uncle had received a personal invite from Rivera to attend the public unveiling, but, with money tight, although he had all honorable intentions, he was unable to make the opening. Shortly thereafter, yet still sometime in 1941, not wanting to slight the great muralist, my uncle caught up with Rivera while he was staying and working at the studio of an American sculptor by the name of Frances Rich in Santa Barbara, California. Rivera invited my uncle to visit him in Mexico the following year, setting a date, place and time.

The next year, 1942, even though Pearl Harbor had just been bombed a few months before and war had broken out all across the Pacific and in Europe, my uncle honored his invite by Rivera. In those days my uncle lived hand-to-mouth, project to project, one painting to the next. So said, on his trip to Mexico he went by train traveling 4th class. Fourth class was usually filled with the indigenous poor, baggage, and sometimes even animals. My uncle had traveled in Mexico several times by train but very seldom did he ever see other white Americans traveling less than 2nd class. However, on this trip and highly unusual, there was a young boy, quite clearly an American and appearing to be in his mid-teens or so, traveling in 4th class unaccompanied by any adults or family. Although the boy projected a certain strength in confidence he seemed somewhat uncomfortable in what was most likely unfamiliar surroundings. In turn, my uncle started up a conversation with him. The boy turned out to be a young Clement Meighan, recently graduated from high school (early), age 17 and traveling in Mexico on his own just to learn and for the experience before what he saw as the impending draft into the military the next year when he turned 18.

It should be noted that the following year, at age 18, Meighan was indeed drafted. Then, in July 1944 during the battle for Saipan (June 15, to July 9, 1944) he was wounded by machine gun fire and evacuated. Meighan is given credit for being the person most responsible for introducing Carlos Castaneda to Shamanism. Matter of fact, Castaneda felt so strongly toward Meighan's contributions that he opened his first book, THE TEACHING OF DON JUAN:, A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, with an acknowledgement toward his professor that reads thus:

"I wish to express profound gratitude to Professor Clement Meighan, who started and set the course of my anthropological fieldwork."

During my uncle's excursion through Mexico via train to catch up with Diego Rivera in 1942, in what at first he viewed as an incredible coincidence, but instead turned out not to be at all, he ran into another young American, a man in his early twenties by the name of John Noble Cumming that he knew and who was in fact, a painter-artist himself, having met Cumming sometime previously as being a member of Rivera's mural painting team. So highly regarded was Cumming by Rivera he was incorporated into his 15.75 foot high by 37.5 foot long mural "Man Controller of the Universe" in the museum in Mexico City, and of whom, can clearly be seen in the lower left quadrant of the mural.[1]

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After high school Cumming attended Santa Clara University and later Harvard, eventually along the way bumping into Rivera. No sooner had WWII broke out than he earned his wings and began flying B-29 Superfortresses over the Hump in the China-Burma-India theater in support of bombing runs against mainland Japan. He was killed when his plane crashed during a Hump mission in 1944, two weeks before his 24th birthday.

June, 28 1944 the Boeing B-29-1-BW Superfortress 42-6246, 679th BS, 444th BG was totally destroyed when crew bailed out 80 miles South West of Hsi-chang, Zhejiang, China during a ferry flight from Kharagpur, India to Hsi-chang, China due to #1 and #3 engine failures. Of the eleven crew on board, three were killed (KIA) and eight were rescued. (see)

Two years before Cumming was ever a pilot, let alone in the Army Air Force, and totally unrelated, the Flying Tigers, or more accurately, the American Volunteer Group (AVG), was disbanded. Col Robert L Scott Jr. was put in charge of the former group, folding the AVG into and becoming the USAAF's 23rd Fighter Group. Six months later, Scott's boss Gen Claire Chennault, discovering he needed Scott's knowledge and expertise higher up in his organization than a squadron leader, replaced him with Lt Col Bruce K Holloway in January 1943. Chennault's wishes or not, Scott was ordered back to the States in October 1943, returning however, back to China in 1944. While in the states Scott met up with B-29 crews training to bomb Japan from China and of which one member was John Noble Cumming. Early in the war Scott himself had been sent to India on a top secret mission to do the exact same thing, bomb Japan on a flight originating from China, only in those days using a B-17 instead of a B-29.

Scott, visiting the B-29 training base after his return to India, met up with Cumming again. In the process of that meeting Scott took Cumming and a few of his B-29 training buddies into Calcutta for some much needed R & R. I just happened to be in Calcutta at the same time meeting with a merchant marine friend who had only recently arrived by convoy from the U.S. and since most of us American military types pretty much frequented the same places it wasn't long before I ran into Scott and his B-29 buddies. Scott and I had met before when I tried to finagle an early ride over the hump in one of his C-47 transport trips into Kunming to no avail.

Joining the group for a ride into Calcutta was an artist war correspondent for Life Magazine named Peter Hurd who was covering the Army Air Forces' worldwide air transport system. Hurd was on his second assignment after England, Europe, and Africa for Life Magazine and in doing so ended up for a time in India

Sitting around having drinks and small talk that day, and unrelated to me being there in any fashion, but because of Hurd and Cumming being so, it came up that Cumming had been a muralist assistant for Diego Rivera while Hurd was a major artist in and around New Mexico. So said, for me the mention of New Mexico and artists brought forth the potential possibility of one or the other or both knowing my uncle, of which both did. Cumming easily recalled meeting him on the train with American spy and actress Rochelle Hudson along with others two years before. Hurd, even though he had been on the road or in the air as a war correspondent a good part of the year 1943, as an intimate New Mexico WPA art colleague of my uncle, he was aware to the fact that my uncle had been shot in the back and left to die in the desert by Japanese operatives searching for radioactive clues in the badlands around Los Alamos, something I didn't know about at the time in that I didn't learn it from my uncle until 1970. If it was secret or not I don't know, but even so, Hurd must have felt he was in a secure enough environment that he could share it. See:


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While discussing various B-29 merits and faults, which was at the time a brand new nearly top secret untested in combat aircraft, Hurd asked about some protrusion or the other he saw on the fuselage. With everybody looking at each other not understanding, Hurd sketched a fairly elaborate side-view profile of the craft nose to tail on a scrap of paper I just happened to have with me pointing out the suspected item. When he was done I asked if he would sign it, which he did, handing me the drawing. Several years after the war I crossed paths with him in his stomping grounds near Roswell and showed him the drawing.

The Army's motto, if it isn't, should be, "Hurry Up And Wait." In that what I was doing was not much more than stroking a dog hanging around for a CNAC flight out over the Hump for the OSS and needed a cover for me to do so, and the powers that be were taking their time doing it, although I don't think anyone gave a shit one way or the other, the place being such a zoo nobody knew what was going on anyway --- the Allies or the Axis --- I had lots of free time. So said I spent lots of it in Calcutta hanging out and ending up bumping into lots of other G.I.'s caught up the same or similar situation. No matter a war was going on. During one of those times in Calcutta, besides meeting Scott, Hurd, Cumming, Bob Kaufman, and others I also met a 20 year old G.I. on R&R named Max Balchowsky that would eventually play a role in my life later on. In conversation Scott related that he had escorted daylight and nighttime bombing runs over Hanoi. In turn, Balchowsky told the group he had participated in low-level B-24 bombing runs on Japanese ships in the Gulf of Tonkin right off the coast of Vietnam. Places like Hanoi and the Gulf of Tonkin and even Vietnam didn't mean much to most of the G.I.s, but for me they took on a whole separate meaning of their own.

Not long after the end of World War II I learned first hand about Operation Matterhorn from a person who was personally involved. He wasn't a Matterhorn participant, but a recipient of the results thereof.[2]


I was quite young when my mother died. Prior to her death she became so ill my father was compelled to place her in a 24 hour a day convalescent home. Then, needing to work so many hours to pay for the medical expenses and not able to care for three young boys he began farming us out to relatives, shirttail relatives, and foster couples. The foster couple I was placed with almost immediately took me to India and the ashram of the venerated Indian holy man the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi in Tiruvannamalai, south India, staying so long I missed many months of school. Twenty years later, as described in the source so cited:

"I was left outside the ruins of a somewhat ancient dilapidated monastery perched precariously high up on the side of some steep Chinese mountain situated somewhere along the southern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. And there I sat. People from the village some distance below would come by to look at me or leave me water and food on occasion. Kids threw rocks at me, dogs pissed on me. After awhile someone gave me a blanket to wrap myself up with, but still I sat. Days, weeks went by.

"One day when some monks came out of the ruins I got up and followed them into the fields hoping to pull something, anything, out of the ground to eat. They didn't stop at any fields but continued on, I just didn't have the strength to keep up with them over any distance. However, when they returned a short time later, I returned, entering the monastery in a single file line right along with them. In doing so, as a double set of rough hewn wooden doors, which hadn't been there previously, closed behind me, I suddenly found myself inside of a fully functional Zen monastery."

The Code Maker, The Zen Maker>

The Zen master, sensing a possible rift in things sent me to Tiruvannamalai and the ashram thinking he could right things. However, whatever abilities he had or didn't have the master missed his mark. It was my attempt to return to the monastery that I ended up in Calcutta and fully able to meet and interact with Col. Robert L. Scott, John Noble Cumming, Robert Kaufman, and Peter Hurd. See:


BEFORE LEAVING CALCUTTA-----------------------------------------------------AFTER LEAVING CALCUTTA










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As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.

Footnote [1]


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Footnote [2]

As a young boy not long after the war I used to go by a bar owned by my Stepmother and meditate in the alley with the old Chinese man who worked in the kitchen, like a dishwasher or swamper or some such thing. I met him because I used to collect pop and beer bottles from around the neighborhood and take them to the bar to get the deposit. The old Chinese man was who I was directed to deal with it.

Sitting in the shade on the back steps amongst the garbage cans and flies behind the bar one afternoon, while drinking hot tea out of tiny little cups with no handles in a near ritual-like tea ceremony he insisted on, the elderly Chinese man told me a story about the bombing of Japanese occupied Taiwan by B-29 Superfortresses of the United States Army Air Force during World War II. He said from ancient times there was a "girl Buddha" whose followers believed that reciting the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum would, because of her compassion, deliver them from harm. He said even though he himself had not practiced or invoked the mantra, while seeking refuge in the midst of the attack he inadvertently ended up amongst a group of believers who were also running to find shelter from the explosions. Then, while within the group, most of whom were verbally repeating the mantra, overhead, pure white and almost cloud-like the "girl Buddha" appeared in the sky above them actually deflecting the trajectory of the bombs away from their exposed path until they reached safety and out of harms way.

The mantra came up because of a 1940s comic book superhero called The Green Lama that used the Om Mani Padme Hum mantra much like Billy Batson used Shazam to become Captain Marvel --- to invoke superpowers --- and, in the Green Lama's case, like Captain Marvel, gaining super strength, invulnerability, the ability to fly, and even being impervious to bullets to the point of being bulletproof. The old dishwasher had six or eight copies of the Green Lama, all in like-new mint condition, of which, for whatever reason, he gave to me.





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Sometime in or around the year 1959 or so I walked into Max Balchowsky's shop Hollywood Motors with a letter of introduction from his friend Eric Houser arranged for me by our friend Mary Davis, which read in part, "Give the kid what he wants, he's OK." What I wanted was to upgrade the power plant in my Ford woody after all these years by having a Chevy Corvette V-8 and automatic transmission installed, and had gone to Hollywood Motors to see if Balchowsky would do it. After reading the note and breaking his stare from a certain admiration aimed at the woody he turned to me. As if hit by a hammer or seen a ghost, uncharacteristically he suddenly and out of nowhere appeared woozy, semi-collapsing, his knees buckling under as fellow shop employees and others close by rushed to block a potential fall, sitting him down and giving him water.

At first I think they thought I stabbed or shot him or something. But that wasn't what happened. The what happened was Balchowsky needed no letter of introduction. He had seen me years before In Burma.

With the end of World War II Balchowsky moved to Southern California almost as quick as the military handed him his discharge. Just as quick, like thousands of others, he jumped feet first into on the growing automotive and hot rod culture that began dominating the California scene. The two things that set him aside from the rest of the pack was his knack for smoothly installing big bore powerful American V-8's into smaller underpowered cars and doing so successfully along with transferring his hot rod skills in the 1950's-1960's into the sports car field by building and racing his own cars. He was known for his bright yellow series of "Old Yeller Junkyard Dog Specials" and their ability to beat the best Europe had to offer. Ferraris, Maseratis, Aston Martins, and Porsche, at one time or the other they all coward under his skills, and if not, gave them a run for their money. In the hands of an extraordinarily skilled driver his V-8 Buick powered specials were a force to be reckoned with.

During World War II Balchowsky was a belly gunner in the turret of a B-24 Liberator. On a mission over Europe his bomber was hit so hard by fighters and flack the crew had to abandon her. Making it as far back as France Balchowsky, wounded, was forced with the rest of the crew to bail out, France being friendly territory, thus avoiding possible capture by the enemy. Following a short recuperation period he was sent to the China-Burma-India theater, more specifically Burma, where he finished out the war.

He asked if I had ever been to Burma. I told him about 15 years before, in 1944 as a young boy around six years old, I had been taken to India for several months by a foster couple, but was unable to remember a whole lot about it. If Burma had been on my travel agenda I wasn't able to remember it either. He told me in 1944 at age 20 he was in the Army in Burma counting down the days until the end of the war when he went on R&R in Calcutta India. There he met the person he thought was me, and for sure the me he met wasn't six years old, but more like 25, and, although in civilian clothes, claiming to be in the Army and hanging out with other G.I.s.

Of course Balchowsky was right. I wouldn't be age 25 for several more years, sometime around 1964 or so. When I went to to see about a possible engine swap for the woody it was approximately five years before 1964. Which is to say neithr 1964 nor me being 25 hadn't happened yet. And that's the crux of the matter. If it hadn't happend yet how could I have remembered it?

If any of you have read "The Code Maker, The Zen Maker," especially Part V Of Minds and Landscapes: Into Their Interior (see), you would have learned that in 1964 I ended up in a Zen Monastery high in the Himalayas and an ashram of a venerated Indian holy man in India. It was after the ashram, as found in Return to the Monastery, that I ended up in Burma and then Calcutta. Of course, again, in Calcutta, I was around 25 years old. When I was in Balchowsky's shop seeing about the woody it was 1959, four or five years earlier. I was only 21 and 1964 hadn't happened yet, so there was no way I could remember any meeting with Balchowsky in Burma or Calcutta because, as for me, it was yet to come.






It should be noted there were two B-29 crashes within two days of each other, with both filling the bill as being the B-29 flight Cumming was associated with, that is, with combined circumstances being so close, i.e., date, time, location, mission, and his birthday, that without crew death/survivor names it is difficult to distinguish between the two. All reports indicate his plane smashed into the Himalayas. The second B-29, listed below, is stated as having crashed during takeoff on:

June, 27 1944 the Boeing B-29-10-BW Superfortress 42-6328 was damaged beyond repair when it crashed on takeoff at USAAF Base A-5, Chiung-Li, west of Chengtu, China during a flight involving the Himalayas. The B-29 caught fire and was totally burnt out. Of the 12 crew members on board, 10 were killed, two were saved.

Actually, there are a number of discrepancies surrounding Cumming, albeit with most sources agreeing he died two weeks before his 23rd birthday. His birthday is cited as July 12, 1920. The monument to the Aviation Martyrs in the War of Resistance Against Japan, located at the foot of the Purple Mountain in China, has his name inscribed on it giving his date of death as June 26, 1944. No records of crashed or destroyed B-29's in the CBI theater fit that date.