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 Introduction A Maverick from a Family of Mavericks When Colonel George Morgan Chinn took his final separation papers from the U.S. Marine Corps, he wore ribbons and medals earned in four conflicts: World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Just how did he manage to take part in all these wars, especially World War I? His birthday was January 15, 1902, which would have made him just fifteen when the United States began to send troops over to France. The answer has to do with his upbringing and schooling. His earliest “intellectual” memory was of his mother reading the Deer Foot series to him. This series was about pioneer life around Harrodsburg, Kentucky, including the areas of Danville, Lexington, and Nicholasville. “There’s more real history in this area, what’s called the ‘Big Settlement’ area, than any place in the United States,” he asserted.1 Always included in the stories were guns, and even as a child, he made the connection between Kentucky history and firearms. Moreover, he was familiar with guns and ammunition early in life; his father, George P. Chinn, was, for some time, the sheriff of Mercer County, a position that put young George in the presence of weaponry. Later, when his father was warden of the Kentucky penitentiary in Frankfort, George Morgan Chinn frequently accompanied him. Just up the street from the prison was the state arsenal, with Major C. W. Longmire in charge. As it happened, there was 1 Kentucky Maverick 2 a Gatling gun on the premises, and Longmire allowed George to play with it. Before long, George could take it apart, although he had some trouble getting everything back together again. Longmire patiently taught the boy how to reassemble the Gatling gun. From these experiences came young George’s interest in—perhaps obsession is a better word—guns of all kinds and descriptions. No wonder he grew up to be the nation’s, if not the world’s, number one military weapons expert.2 George Morgan grew up at Mundy’s Landing, on the Kentucky River, never losing his love or fascination for this area. He and his dog, Tauser, were often seen fishing on the river after Touser had “dug him a can of worms or caught a bucket of minnows.”3 “I didn’t grow up,” he told friends, “I swam up.”4 Consequently, Chinn “swam up on the mighty river of Kentucky history.”5 From Mundy’s Landing in Mercer County’s Brooklyn community, one could see another place of treasure: the palisades , massive rock formations above the Kentucky River. These palisades had future consequences for George Morgan Chinn. George Sr. made up his mind early on that his son was going to be a military man, because—as the son joked—family members thought he’d look nice in a uniform. In preparation, his father sent George Morgan to a one-room schoolhouse in the Harrodsburg area called Braxton Hall. Many of the military cohorts he came across later introduced themselves pompously as “Major So-and-So, Cal Tech,” or “Captain Somebody, MIT.” Invariably, Chinn would introduce himself as “Major Chinn, Braxton Tech.” He later remarked, “I haven’t had anybody yet ask me where in the pluperfect so-and-so is Braxton Tech. No one ever questioned it [the title] and they always gave a knowing glance like they knew it well.”6 The students at Braxton “Tech” faced a battery of questionable teaching techniques. One “old maid” teacher put them through numerous classroom spelling bees. If a student missed just one word, he or she (girls were on one side of the one-room Introduction 3 school and boys on the other) would have to go to the end of the class as it lined up to show off its spelling abilities. If, heaven forbid, a student missed two words in a row, he or she not only had to go to the end of the line but recite, in correct order, the name of every president from George Washington to Woodrow Wilson. George became so efficient here that it took him only a few seconds to declaim, “Washington, Adams, Jefferson . . . Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson!” One gets an insight into his behavior when he admits that he could go backward from Wilson to Washington in short order as well. He did, however, learn one substantial thing in school about engineering: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. He argued that engineers...


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