Veterans embrace ‘Tokyo Rose’

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Iva Toguri has lived a long time, but she said the “most memorable” day of her life came earlier this year when she was recognized by a group of U.S. military veterans.

The Chicago ceremony was rich with irony. The Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award, which the World War II Veterans Committee bestowed on 89-year-old Ms. Toguri at a January luncheon in Chicago, was named for a famous broadcaster whose narration of the Universal newsreels won him the moniker “The Voice of World War II.”

Ms. Toguri was also a broadcaster — once notoriously known as Tokyo Rose.

The January award was an important vindication of Ms. Toguri, who was sent to federal prison after being convicted of treason based on perjured testimony. Her American citizenship was stripped in 1949. President Ford restored it in 1977.

The irony-filled saga of this woman born on the Fourth of July — in Los Angeles in 1916 — is the kind of amazing story that sounds like a Hollywood script. Indeed, Paramount has a film of Ms. Toguri’s life in the works, to be produced by Frank Darabont, best known for such films as “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile.”

The child of Japanese-American parents, Ms. Toguri grew up in a middle-class family determined to assimilate into the American mainstream. Ms. Toguri, who spoke almost no Japanese and hated Japanese food, was a Girl Scout, a Methodist and a Republican. She loved pop culture (“Orphan Annie” was her favorite cartoon character) and graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles, with plans to become a doctor.

Then, in June 1941, a letter arrived from her aunt, who had remained in Japan and was in failing health. She begged Ms. Toguri’s mother to come to Japan for one last visit.

Ms. Toguri’s mother also was in poor health, however. Her father and brother were busy running the family business, and so Ms. Toguri was sent instead, boarding a ship for what she expected would be a six-month visit to Tokyo.

Then came the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II. Ms. Toguri found herself trapped in the capital of the Japanese empire, 7,000 miles from her American home.

Unlike some Japanese-Americans who found themselves stuck in wartime Japan under similar circumstances, Ms. Toguri resisted official pressure to renounce her U.S. citizenship.

Ms. Toguri found work as a typist at the Domei News Agency and at the Danish Embassy and, in 1943, responded to an ad from Radio Tokyo for English-speaking typists. At about the same time, Japanese military authorities decided to step up their radio propaganda broadcasts by bringing in three Allied prisoners of war — Australian Maj. Charles Cousens, American Capt. Wallace Ince and Philippine Lt. Norman Reyes — to run a new daily show called the “Zero Hour.”

Maj. Cousens resolved to use the “Zero Hour” to entertain, rather than demoralize, the U.S. troops who were targets of the broadcast and, arguing that the shows would be more persuasive if presented with an authentic Western touch, talked his Japanese captors into granting him control of the program.

The Australian officer managed to slip subtle anti-Japanese messages into “The Zero Hour,” and one of the new recruits he brought on board for the show was the former Girl Scout from Los Angeles, Ms. Toguri.

By 1943, American soldiers had already adopted “Tokyo Rose” as a nickname describing several female announcers on Japanese propaganda broadcasts. On “The Zero Hour,” Ms. Toguri called herself “Orphan Ann” in tribute to her favorite comic-strip character, as she introduced newscasts and did comedy skits.

As the war went on, Ms. Toguri used some of her earnings to buy food and medicine for the prisoners of war in the prison where Maj. Cousens was held. She married a Portuguese national, Felipe d’ Aquino.

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