ON BEHALF OF THE NAVY NUCLEAR WEAPONS ASSOCIATION BOARD OF DIRECTORS
MEET OUR NEW GRAY DRAGON
John N. Cummings, GMTC U.S. Navy Retired
“A Navy Nuclear Weapons Pioneer”
John N. Cummings was born in Weston, WV on August 27, 1925. On August 27, 1942, at age 17, he raised his right hand, swore to defend the nation against all aggressors, and went off to Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, IL. Upon graduation he boarded a troop train heading east. Following many stops enroute he debarked at Casco Bay in Portland ME where he met his first ship, the brand new USS Indiana (BB-58) then in the midst of a shakedown cruise in preparation for deployment. Indiana steamed to Norfolk for stores, soon getting underway to transit the Panama Canal for Pacific duties which included joining in the assault on Guadalcanal. The Indiana went on to participate in major naval engagements of the Pacific including Solomon Islands, Gilbert Islands, Tarawa, Kwajalein, the Marianas, Saipan and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Fireman 2nd Class Cummings was assigned to the electricians’ gang where he advanced to EM3 before departing USS Indiana in late 1944.
Electrician Mate 3rd Class Cummings attended Gyro School at NTC San Diego and then worked in the gyro shop at the San Diego Naval Base awaiting construction of USS Belle Isle (AG-73) then in-building on the east coast. At the end of WWII Belle Isle, an electrical and electronic repair ship, departed the US for Yokosuka, Japan where Cummings worked on gyros for ships homeward bound. Cummings advanced to 2nd class in 1946 and was transferred to the USS Alcor (AD-34) to bring it back for decommissioning. Upon arrival in San Diego he was transferred to The USS Prairie (AD-15) where he served as E division acting chief and stood the engineering chiefs’ watches. In 1947 2nd Class Cummings was transferred to the USS Lofberg (DD-759), which made summer reserve cruises between San Diego and Alaska. It was on one of these cruises that Cummings met student nurse Flo Nixon. Petty Officer Cummings accepted a discharge in 1948 and traveled to Tacoma, WA where, after speaking to the Commanding Officer of the Naval Reserve training ship USS Charles E. Brannon (DE-446), he elected to reenlist. EM-2 Cummings served aboard Brannon for a short time until he was advised to apply for well-deserved shore duty. Certified by the Bureau of Naval Personnel as “shore duty eligible”, Cummings received orders to a mine sweeper, U.S.S. Merganser (AMS-26), stationed in Pearl Harbor, HI. In late 1948 John was called to the CO’s cabin and handed an envelope of Top Secret orders directing him to report to the Commanding General, Sandia Base, Albuquerque, NM. EM-2 Cummings was escorted by a Navy Officer through the entirety of his check-out process, right up to the time he boarded one of the big double-deck Pan American China Clippers bound for San Francisco. The overnight flight provided formal meals, open galley and individual bunks. John met ET-1 Chuck Schoen at the Pearl Harbor receiving station and they traveled together to New Mexico. Chuck Schoen is an active NNWA member and second on our NW seniority list. In fact it was Chuck who told the NNWA Board of Directors about John. Both men now live in southern California and maintain a causal relationship, somewhat inhibited by their age.
Petty Officer Cummings retrieved his car from storage and the two set off for Albuquerque, only to be immobilized by a snowstorm in Flagstaff, AZ. Turning south they drove to Phoenix, then on to Sandia Base to arrive on New Year’s Eve, 1948. John was assigned to the Navy Special Weapons Unit 471. Chuck Schoen went to the 802.
EM-1 Cummings served with the 471 until February 1952. During that time John made one extended deployment aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CV-42) with a 15 to 20 man SWU. In 1950, Roosevelt became the first carrier to take nuclear weapons to sea. His team also visited a number of other carriers for short periods to accomplish tests and certification. It was during one of these tests aboard USS Midway (CV-41) that Petty Officer John Cummings was awarded a Navy Letter of Commendation. In 1952 John was transferred to the Special Weapons Supply Depot (SWSD) in Norfolk, VA where he made EM1. He remained there until 1955 when he was ordered to Special Weapons Unit Pacific (SWUPAC) and re-associated with a Special Weapons Deployment Team. His team deployed to West Pac aboard USS Lexington (CVA 16) from November 1955 until December 1956. His next tour took him back to Hawaii, this time to NAD Oahu, Waikele Branch, until 1959, the year John was advanced to EMC and Hawaii became a state. Returning to NWTCPAC, San Diego, EMC Cummings performed duties as an instructor and in the technical repair department. When he applied for retirement in 1962, BUPERS response was to issue him a letter offering three years additional shore duty at either Sandia base, Albuquerque or NWTC, San Diego. With his wife and four children already settled in Imperial Beach, he chose to remain at NWTC until 1965 when he retired as GMTC in charge of tech repair. During his twenty three year Navy career John Cummings had been attached to Navy Nuclear Weapon Facilities for 16 years and saw two rather crude weapons (“Little Boy” and “Fat Man”) evolve into complicated, multi-role weapons systems. Mr. Cummings worked as an electrician for a year after retirement at Solar Aircraft, San Diego manufacturing large turbines. John was then employed at NAS North Island in its aviation instrument clean room for the remainder of his working years. He retired at age 55 in 1980.
John married his bride, Florence, (Flo) in Victoria, B.C., Canada on Sep 7, 1950. They spent 62 happy and productive years together until she passed in May 2012. John and Flo had four children; twins Neal and Nancy followed by Susan and Ian. Nancy, an RN, joined the Air Force and is now a retired reserve officer. Neal, a graduate of the University of New Mexico and Navy Flight School, Pensacola was lost in a boating accident soon after receiving his wings. Susan lives in Arizona, Ian in San Diego, Nancy in Virginia. John proudly reports he has seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. He is well, living in Chula Vista, CA, enjoying the company of his friends in the antique car clubs, AACA and SDC.
It was a pleasure and an honor to speak with Mr. Cummings while preparing this article. I plan to travel to San Diego in mid-January to present him the NNWA Gray Dragon Certificate. I will report on that event with photos later in the NNWA website.
Should you wish to contact John, the information below is current. It is also posted in the roster section of our website, www.navynucweps.com. Mr. Cummings does not communicate by internet.
172 Jasmine Way, Apt 110
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Mike Snyder President NNWA
January 26, 2013
presentation of the Gray Dragon to GMTC John N. Cummings at
Frederick Manor, Chula Vista by Michael Snyder, NNWA President and