Monday, May 29, 2006

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.

After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the American press descended on Tokyo. High on the list of reporters’ questions was, “Where is Tokyo Rose?” Two journalists — Harry Brundidge of Cosmopolitan magazine and Clark Lee of International News Service — offered a reward of $250 to anyone who could identify “Tokyo Rose” and a reward of $2,000 to the woman herself if she would give them an exclusive on her story.

Leslie Nakashima, a former employee at Radio Tokyo, eager for the $250 reward, singled out Iva Toguri. When the reporters tracked her down, she was confused by the “Tokyo Rose” nickname and tried to explain her radio role. When Mr. Brundidge and Mr. Lee said a former co-worker already had identified her, however, Ms. Toguri agreed to tell her story to Cosmopolitan for $2,000.

She never got paid and instead was arrested by American military police. An investigation found no grounds for the charges of treason and aiding the enemy, however. She was released after a year and tried to return to the United States.

But in early 1946, the movie “Tokyo Rose” portrayed a sultry, malevolent traitor who taunted American soldiers. Syndicated columnist Walter Winchell began crusading to have Ms. Toguri re-arrested. Finally, in the fall of 1948 — with President Truman facing a tough campaign — the Justice Department bowed to public pressure.

Ms. Toguri secretly was arrested in Japan and sent to San Francisco, where she was indicted on eight counts by a federal grand jury. The resulting trial lasted 13 weeks and cost $750,000 — the most expensive trial in U.S. history to that date.

Her defense attorney, Wayne Mortimer Collins, exposed the weaknesses in the government’s case, and several of Ms. Toguri’s former Radio Tokyo colleagues, including Maj. Cousens, testified passionately to her innocence. But two former co-workers, Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, under pressure from federal prosecutors, testified that they once heard Ms. Toguri tell her listeners about a “loss of ships.”

The jury at first deadlocked, but the presiding judge issued new instructions and finally they found Ms. Toguri guilty of one count of treason — a verdict that jury foreman John Mann later said he would regret for the rest of his life.

Ms. Toguri was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She served six years. Her husband, denied entry into the United States, divorced her. After her release, the federal government tried unsuccessfully to have her deported.

She eventually moved to Chicago, where she lived quietly with relatives until 1969, when her story came to the attention of Bill Kurtis, anchor for WBBM-TV. She granted an interview that led to a 30-minute CBS documentary, “The Story of Tokyo Rose.”

Then, in 1976, Ron Yates, Tokyo bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, interviewed the two witnesses whose testimony had led to Ms. Toguri’s conviction. They admitted that they had perjured themselves under heavy pressure. That resulted in a series of articles for the Tribune, making a powerful case for Ms. Toguri’s innocence.

“I think the thing that makes this so important to me was that it was two journalists who got her into trouble,” Mr. Yates said recently, “and I was just happy that it was a journalist who helped right a wrong a little bit.”

A “60 Minutes” broadcast on Ms. Toguri, narrated by Morley Safer, helped increase public support for a presidential pardon and in January 1977, on his last day in office, Mr. Ford granted her a pardon and restored her citizenship.

In the 30 years since, Ms. Toguri has guarded her privacy. She made a rare public appearance for the January ceremony in Chicago, where the veterans’ group presented her with its Citizenship Award.

“I know that for so many years, I wanted to be positive on this whole thing,” she said. “I wanted to be proud. And I wanted to honor my father and my family. They believed in me through all the things that happened to me. I thank … the World War II Veterans Committee for making this the most memorable day of my life.”

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