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 4 Semper Fi The more Captain Chinn struggled with weight issues (at one time in his career, he had to buckle two belts at his waist to keep his pants up), the more his good intentions fell apart.1 At one base he lost seventy pounds, only to gain it back at the next post. He joined enlisted personnel in what was essentially basic training at Quantico in Virginia, some forty miles south of Washington , DC, climbing obstacle courses, taking hikes, crawling on his belly, and the like. He quipped one time that the recruits, all of whom were much younger than he, seemed to be somewhat disappointed that the “old man” was still living at the end of the day. He was under military orders to lose weight, but each time his weight fluctuated the size of his uniform changed—at the military’s expense. Finally, Chinn decided to leave it alone, to stay at the weight that seemed most comfortable for him (he usually hovered around three hundred pounds). Medical doctors frequently stopped him out on base, thinking he was a plant, put there by their superiors to make sure they were on their toes in spotting unhealthful practices among the men under their command .2 Chinn showed up at one doctor’s office after being told to “be there.” As the physician looked Chinn over, he remarked to one of his colleagues: “I knew they [recruitment offices] were scraping the bottom of the barrel, but I’ve got the barrel right here.”3 In the years that followed, Chinn liked to relate this story to audiences. He described himself as “the despair of the medical profession” because their predictions about him had been Kentucky Maverick 62 wrong: “The Navy’s doctors are sore at me because I’ve upset their statistics chart. According to it, I was supposed to be dead 12 years ago last month.”4 Unbelievably, Chinn let the statement by the sarcastic naval physician ride without any response. He really did want to get into the army or the U.S. Marine Corps. He knew that if he quarreled with an established military figure, particularly someone who outranked him, he’d come out of it negatively. So, unusually for him, he kept his mouth shut. There was another matter on which he remained silent. According to press reports, he and the U.S. government made an agreement by which twenty-two hundred acres of Chinn land in Mercer County (which he had either inherited or would in the future) was planted in marijuana (or “industrial hemp”) to be used as emergency rope-making supplies for naval and other military purposes. The permit for such cultivation was posted in his office, in big letters so that no one could possibly miss it. Even so, Chinn remarked, “Many . . . FBI men . . . nearly climbed over the top of my desk to see that permit.” Years later, Chinn speculated how much a marijuana crop of twenty-two hundred acres in 1940 would be worth in 1983: “You’d be able to pay off the national debt,” he quipped.5 It was, of course, practically impossible to conceal fields of growing hemp in Mercer County, as in other places throughout the country. Many curiosity seekers , and sheriff’s deputies as well, visited on a regular basis.6 The easiest access to Chinn’s marijuana fields was by boat on the Kentucky River; even so, one would have to climb the palisades to get to them. No one, not even Chinn as the landowner, was allowed on the property without government permission.7 One of the earliest users of marijuana was General George Rogers Clark. After he fell into a large fire and had to have a leg amputated in 1809, the “weed” eased his pain. The effect of marijuana was not lost on the early Kentuckians; however, they usually favored whiskey. The stalk of the plant was used for rope Semper Fi 63 to help supply the navy; the leaves and buds were smoked by some citizens—at least when they could not acquire any bourbon . “I’ve seen people leave a field of hemp,” said Chinn, “to go fire up the still.” Most hemp was grown in the Bluegrass region; George’s father, in an earlier age, had also planted sizable quantities of hemp, passing the techniques on to his son. Thus, it may be said that George Morgan Chinn, in raising hemp, merely carried on a family tradition...


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MARC Record
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