The story of Kinzo Hamano is a very curious one on its own – he being one of the few Townies from the old days who was a native of Japan, but spoke with the Irish brogue so common in 1940s Charlestown.
The fact that he was a Japanese-American fighting on the other side of his homeland – and with an Irish accent – makes him a Charlestown veteran of even greater distinction.
Very little information exists about Hamano, but he and his family were very involved in the Town, according to a news clipping recently unearthed by Barry Kenty. He said he found it in his mother’s scrapbook, and was floored by the unusual story of maybe the most unique of Charlestown’s large pool of heroic military men and women.
“I got that from my mother’s scrap book, and I think she was friends with him back in the day,” wrote Kenty. “This guy is a true Townie Hero. I would love to be a part of bringing this kids story up front and center.”
The first lead of the news article from the World War II era also exhibits some surprise.
“Charlestown has a community hero in this war and it’s going to surprise you a little,” read the article.
Hamano, 27 at the time, lived at 62 Henley St. with his family, a home just off the John Harvard Mall. He fought as an infantryman 100th Battalion of the 42nd Infantry Regiment – the “fightin’est outfit” in Italy. That unit was composed entirely of Japanese Americans, but Hamano was the only New England man in the unit.
“Their record has branded them an all-American outfit of the first order and whose total decorations is startling,” read the article. “PFC Hamano has played no small part in winning the outfit its shining reputation, even though today he is recuperating from a second wound in a hospital in southern France.”
Hamano held a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf distinction for helping to rescue a Battalion in the Alps.
“The War Department will tell you in writing a thrilling chapter in its already massive book of courageous action,” read the article. “The unit is now operating in the formidable topography of the Alps. Among its exploits is the rescue of the Sixth Army’s ‘Lost Battalion.’”
Hamano was brought up in Charlestown, as were his brothers and sisters, among the old time Townies. His older brother, Mango, was also in the Army at the time of the article. His younger brother, Sadago, 15, hoped to join the Army. He had three sisters as well, including Namika, Mariko and Tomiya (who at the time was an instructor at the Copley Secretarial School).
His father, Manzo, had passed away, but his mother, Sanono, was living. Both had emigrated to the United States from Japan before the children were born, settling in Charlestown sometime around 1915. The children, however, seemed to assimilate to their Irish enclave and were very popular.
“Kinzo was born and brought up in Charlestown,” read the account. “His pretty sisters, there are three of them, will tell you that until he was 15 or 16 years old, he spoke with a bit of an Irish brogue.”
He attended Charlestown High School, and starred on the very good football teams in his day. He was listed as one of the most popular members of his class.
Prior to entering the Army, Hamano was working as a welder at the Todd Shipyard in South Portland, Maine. He entered the Army in September 1942, and went overseas in September 1944.
He was wounded the first time in December 1944, but soon returned to the ranks. He was wounded a second time when a German land mine exploded.
Certainly, Charlestown has a lot of veterans to venerate on Veterans’ Day, which is Nov. 11. However, none likely has as unique a story as that of Kinzo Hamano – Charlestown’s surprising war hero.