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Cover Story October 19th, 2006


  Untitled Document

by lyle e davis

If you wrote a movie script that told Iva Toguri D'Aquino’s story, no one would believe it. Yet it happened.

Iva Toguri D’Aquino died less than a month ago, September 26th.

That didn’t set off a lot of horns and whistles nor did a lot of people recognize the name of this 90 year old lady who passed on while living in Chicago.

Yet at one time this lady was known world wide . . . as “Tokyo Rose.”

The Toguri family worked their Japanese import goods store on Chicago's North Side as they have since the 1960s. Located near the corner of Clark and Belmont, J. Toguri Mercantile is one of those anonymous storefronts you may have walked past many times without notice. Behind the counter, small, withered Japanese-American women in aprons ring up a customer's purchase of rice crackers and tea as they make conversation in Japanese.

Here, until her recent death, you could find Iva Toguri D’Aquino.

In was the summer of 1941 and this young, innocent Japanese-American woman, at the age of 25, left her California home to care for her mother's ailing sister outside Tokyo. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor she was taken as a prisoner of war and ordered to make propaganda broadcasts along with other prisoners of war.

At one time they had called her Tokyo Rose -- a temptress of the vilest kind. A woman who used the airwaves to taunt America's fighting men in the Pacific during the bloody, brutal battles of World War II.

Yet Tokyo Rose, much to the eventual disappointment of now elderly American GIs, who had listened to her all over the Pacific theater, Tokyo Rose never existed. There was nobody named Tokyo Rose, nor was it anybody's nickname. There was never even a fictional character named Tokyo Rose. The name was just a placeholder used by Allied troops to refer to any of the two dozen female voices they heard regularly on Radio Tokyo.

Later, however, “Tokyo Rose” was seized and molded by a U.S. government seeking to hand out blame for years of death and destruction, and finally propagated by silence, ignorance and ambivalence in the fifty years since. In the case of the seductive siren Tokyo Rose, myth has melted into memory, memory into myth.

A lot of what people think they know about Tokyo Rose (including the supposed fact that she was called Tokyo Rose, and was one individual) is wrong. While it's true a woman identified as Tokyo Rose was convicted of treason after the war, the trial was a sham and the woman was later pardoned. Until recently she was alive and well and living in Chicago.

The woman accused of being Tokyo Rose, Iva Toguri D'Aquino, stood trial for eight "overt acts" of treason at the Federal District Court in San Francisco in July of 1949. She was one of a dozen or so women who had broadcast propaganda for the Japanese during World War II. Neither Toguri nor any of the other women called herself Tokyo Rose, a name invented by GIs and applied by them to any female Japanese announcer.

Toguri claimed she and her associates subtly sabotaged the Japanese war effort. The American and Australian POWs who wrote her scripts assured her she was doing nothing wrong and immediately after the war Gen. MacArthur's staff and the Justice Department cleared her of wrongdoing.

It was only when the press raised an uproar over her attempt to return to the U.S. in 1948 that Toguri was put on trial. Her former bosses at Radio Tokyo, fearing for their own skins, caved in to government pressure and gave perjured or otherwise distorted testimony that was instrumental in her conviction. She was fined $100,000 and given a 10 year prison sentence, of which she served more than six years. The case was later reopened and she was granted a full pardon by Gerald Ford as his last presidential act in 1977. Until she died in late September, she was a shopkeeper in Chicago, where you can still visit her store today. Just don't look for a sign saying, "Home of Tokyo Rose."

During what was at the time the costliest trial in U.S. history (over $500,000), the prosecution presented only 12 witnesses, including two of Toguri's former bosses at Radio Tokyo (both of whom later admitted to having perjured themselves) and a few GIs who could not distinguish between what they'd heard on the radio and what they'd heard through the grapevine.

Indeed, only two counts of the indictment dealt directly with words allegedly spoken by Ms. Toguri on the air during her stint as the hostess of "The Zero Hour" program broadcast via shortwave radio from Tokyo. Overt act VIII alleged she "did speak into a microphone" and "did there engage in an entertainment dialogue with an employee of the Broadcasting Corporation of Japan for radio broadcast purposes." Overt act VI (the only count on which she was convicted) claimed, "That on a day during October, 1944, the exact date being to the Grand Jurors unknown, said defendant, at Tokyo, Japan, in a broadcasting studio of The Broadcasting Corporation of Japan, did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships."

The government never accused Ms. Toguri or Radio Tokyo of broadcasting information obtained through Japanese intelligence because it never happened. The broadcast "Tokyo Rose" went to prison for a vague allusion to the outcome of a battle that had already taken place, information known generally to the participants in that battle, although not at the field level.

The Japanese never broke any of our intelligence codes, save perhaps a few low-level codes used at the field and shipboard level to transmit weather reports and the like.. Had the Japanese possessed the ability to track our ship movements or listen in on our invasion plans, they certainly wouldn't have turned that information over to Radio Tokyo for broadcast to the people they were fighting.

The U.S. military and diplomatic high level cipher machine, the ECM Mark II or SIGABA in use during the war, remains secure to this day. The U.S., on the other hand, broke the Japanese "Red" diplomatic code during the early 1930's and its successor, "Purple," in 1940 which led to such military triumphs as the downing of Admiral Yamamoto's plane and the destruction of Japanese naval forces during the battle of the Coral Sea.

Iva Toguri and her associates gathered much of the news they broadcast listening to short-wave radio from the U.S. mainland.

Iva Toguri, for her part, denied that she had betrayed her country.

Her story is a drama emblematic of the most significant events of the twentieth century: World War II, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Nagasaki. It is a story of one woman's undying love for America during a time when her name and face made her an alien in the very country she called home. It is a story of human tragedy and perseverance against all odds. Her story, very simply, is the stuff of Hollywood -- an epic whose characters are star-crossed lovers and embattled soldiers, villainous lawyers, politicians and journalists, and one heroic woman who quietly endured the lies in a vain attempt to live a simple life.

Age and time finally caught up to Toguri . . she has now passed into that firmament of time and “Tokyo Rose” will soon be totally forgotten, even by today’s elders . . . those who were in the midst of battle during WWII.

To help tell the story, Ron Yates, a Chicago Tribune correspondent in Tokyo from 1974-77 and the Trib's Japan Bureau Chief from 1985-92:

“Well, at the time, three years after the war, 1948, there was a lot of hatred toward the Japanese. A lot of people had lost sons and mothers and fathers. You could kind of get some sense about why she was being prosecuted. But even so, even when you allow for the temper of the time, there seemed to be something wrong."

Yates tracked down two of the men who had testified against Toguri in 1949. There, inside a restaurant in Tokyo, Yates sat stunned as Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, both California-born Japanese-Americans who were Iva's superiors on the wartime broadcasts, said they had lied at the trial when they claimed she made a treasonous broadcast after the U.S. Naval victory in the Leyte Gulf of the Philippines in October 1944. Through tears of guilt and shame, they admitted that Toguri had done nothing treasonous. Nothing at all. "It was tough for them," Yates says.

"It was a tough time. But at the same time, you shake your head and say, ‘How could you do this to this woman who didn't do anything wrong?' But looking at the times again, they were terrified."

In May 1976, the U.S. embassy in Tokyo contacted Yates to confirm the information. Support, albeit silent, began to build for her pardon. Finally, after Yate’s stories appeared in the Chicago Tribune and an appearance on "60 Minutes," President Gerald Ford pardoned Toguri in his last official act in office on July 19, 1977.
Ironically, Iva Ikuko Toguri was born on July 4, 1916. One of four children, she lived with her parents in Los Angeles and worked in her father's Japanese import goods store before going off to Compton Junior College in 1934. After a semester, she transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles and continued to pursue a future in medicine as a zoology major. When she graduated from UCLA in 1940, life stretched out before her like the American Dream itself.

But in June 1941, just as diplomatic talks between Japan and the U.S. were beginning to sputter and stall in Washington, D.C., Toguri's mother, Fumi, received word that her only living sister was sick. Unable to go to Tokyo herself because of illness, Mrs. Toguri sent Iva instead. Now almost 25, Toguri was more than a little reluctant. Despite her heritage, she had never been to Japan. She was a Nisei, first-generation Japanese-American, who had little knowledge of the world that her parents left behind in Japan. Not unlike most children of Asian immigrants at that time, Toguri saw herself simply as an American.

Her ship, the Arabia Maru, set sail from San Pedro, California, to Kobe via Yokohama July 5, 1941. As Toguri stood on the deck that day in the sparkling white sharkskin suit that her sister had made for her, she waved good-bye to her family down on the dock. Little did she know that upon her homecoming, joy and celebration would be replaced by controversy and hatred. This young woman, the veritable girl next door, would return an alleged war criminal. Toguri's life was about to change forever.

As Japanese planes interrupted the early morning calm over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Toguri caught a glimpse of her bleak future. Since her arrival, Toguri's letters home had expressed little happiness about her life with her aunt and uncle in Setagaya, a suburb of Tokyo. Unaccustomed to Japanese food, her diet suffered. Unable to communicate in her parents' native tongue, her plight was only exacerbated by the fact that she looked Japanese, and therefore was expected to speak the language. She had few friends and even fewer work opportunities. Moreover, the Japanese were beginning to feel the effects of their nation's war-stretched economy. Toguri wanted out and told her father, Jun Toguri, as much in a letter not long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. But now, like approximately 10,000 other Japanese Americans in Japan at the time war broke out, she was stuck in a foreign land. If she wondered what her new life would be like now that Japan and the U.S. were at war, an unannounced visit from the Special Security Police two days after the attack on Pearl Harbor gave her some idea. She was the enemy, and the Japanese were watching.

As part of their frequent visits, the local police and kempeitai, or military police, demanded that Toguri renounce her American citizenship. They said it would make life easier on her, implying punishments if she did not comply with their forceful requests. She told them no way. Bill Kurtis, who scored an interview with Toguri back when he was "a young cub reporter" with WBBM-TV, Channel 2, in the mid-1960s, has stayed in touch with her ever since. According to Kurtis, such stubborn loyalty was and continues to be pure Iva. "She's always there," he explains. "She has a kind of unwavering loyalty to me and my friendship, exactly the same kind of loyalty that caused her not to renounce her U.S. citizenship, which is what caused the problem in the first place."

Between visits from the kempeitai, Toguri found part-time work with the Domei News Agency, monitoring the airwaves for American movements in the Pacific for 110 yen per month, or about $5. In June 1943, she also began working as a typist for Radio Tokyo at NHK's American Division of the Overseas Bureau. However, her duties soon required much more of Toguri.

Radio Tokyo was responsible for English-language radio broadcasts in the Pacific, which included anti-American propaganda. One show that became particularly popular was "Zero Hour," which played the newest music of the day and gave war reports. Organized and presented by Allied prisoners of war under the supervision of Japanese military intelligence, the "Zero Hour" broadcasts were subtly sabotaged by the POWs, including Australian Army Major Charles Cousens, a former radio celebrity in Sydney.

When Radio Tokyo asked Cousens to add a female voice, he chose Toguri from amongst several Japanese-American women at NHK, although she was less experienced in broadcasting and less appealing in her presentation. Unlike the other women, Toguri's voice was stunted, not smooth. She sounded sincere, not sexy. In other words, she was exactly what Cousens was looking for: someone he could teach and mold to read scripts that pleased the Japanese supervisors at Radio Tokyo, but did little damage to the morale of Allied men.

From late 1943 to nearly the end of the war in the Pacific, Toguri read scripts that Cousens had written (she wrote a little on her own as well, after Cousens collapsed from a heart attack in the summer of 1944).

Like other female radio personalities who broadcast in the Pacific during the war, Toguri operated under a stage name. On the air she was "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 with the end of the war and the U.S. occupation of Japan, Toguri wept with joy. Now, finally, she would be able to return home. Only when she made her homecoming to California, it was as the much-touted war criminal, Tokyo Rose.

By all accounts, and from the few "Zero Hour" tapes that remain, Toguri said little in her broadcasts that could be construed as treasonous. Moreover, despite the servicemen's use of Tokyo Rose to describe the female voices they heard on the radio, after the war U.S. military research failed to find any evidence of the name Tokyo Rose in radio programs from all over the Pacific.

However, as the media swarmed across Japan in search of the post-war scoop, a confused, young woman, excited about going home, became yet another victim of the war. She offered herself up freely to the press, explaining exactly what she did because she thought she had done no wrong. In the process, she became a star amongst the servicemen who thought they had heard her voice all those years. Military investigators, following the stories about this Tokyo Rose, tore her away from husband Felipe d'Aquino, whom Toguri married in 1945 after their years spent trapped in Japan. She was locked away in barracks without counsel and along the way became "the one and only Tokyo Rose."

Toguri's three-month trial would become the biggest and most expensive legal battle to date. She was ultimately convicted of one count of treason (she had been charged with eight) with nearly no concrete evidence against her. She was sentenced to ten years in prison and given a $10,000 fine. She served more than six years of that sentence in Alderson Federal Reformatory in West Virginia.

For anyone who cares, the details of Toguri's story are well-documented in U.S. legal and military records and brought to light in such books as 1979's "Tokyo Rose: Orphan of the Pacific," written by Masayo Duus. But for Yates, the pardon that Ford granted Toguri and the mere facts are not enough to soothe the pain of a lifetime. He feels that if the wrongs of the past that cannot be fully righted, at least they can be explained in her story, a story that seasoned journalists like Yates and Kurtis see as nothing short of incredible. "The problem is not that it's a bad story. It's a wonderful story. A beautiful story," Yates says. "It's a love story with everything you could possibly want. It has survival, an indomitable spirit, a woman born on the 4th of July, who graduated from UCLA with everything in front of her. She does her duty and gets caught up in World War II like a whole lot of other people did and winds up suffering the rest of her life."

"Her life is a fairy tale," Kurtis agrees. "It's a wonderful story. Everyone who hears is says that it should be a movie. Think of all that."

However, until someone tells her story to the nation, Iva Ikuko Toguri will remain veiled in mystery, with only the black-and-white facts of history to support her claims of innocence. This was the scenario as she would sit quietly in her Chicago’s North Side shop.

And now, she is gone.

The Rose that never was, Iva Ikuko Toguri.


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."

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. It can well be imagined that she died, if not a happy woman, a happier woman . . . for, at long last, she had been vindicated.

James C. Roberts
May 30, 2006
The Weekly Wire - They Call Her Tokyo Rose - By Keith O'Brien - 1/20/98





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