This story was published in Radio Recall, the journal of the Metropolitan Washington Old-Time Radio Club, published six times per year.
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TOKYO ROSE: AMERICAN PATRIOT
by Jack French © 2006
(From Radio Recall, June 2006)
Many in the OTR community tend to hold on to cherished myths long after the evidence has proven the opposite. They mistakenly believe that the Lone Ranger’s true name was John Reid, that David Sarnoff communicated with the sinking Titanic, and that Straight Arrow was a white man disguised as a Comanche Indian. And many OTR fans, like their counterparts in the American public, are convinced that “Tokyo Rose” was guilty of treason since she betrayed her country. That last myth is the by far the worst, since it deprives a living American patriot of the honor she deserves.
Please put aside for a few minutes everything you thought you knew about Tokyo Rose and consider the facts of her case. Iva Toguri was born on Independence Day, July 4, 1916 in Los Angles, the second of four children born to Japanese immigrants. Her parents were proud of their adopted country and spoke English in their home. Iva progressed from being a Girl Scout to graduating from UCLA in 1940 with a degree in zoology.
She probably would have never seen her parent’s country had not her aunt in Japan become bedridden in the summer of 1941. Iva’s parents sent her to Japan to care for her aunt, despite the fact that her U.S. passport was tied up in the State Department. Caring for her aunt as best she could for the next few months, Iva had trouble fitting in as she could hardly speak Japanese and knew nothing of the customs.
As international tensions mounted between the two countries, she tried to return to the land of her birth on December 2, 1941 but paperwork problems forced her to cancel her trip and just five days later , Pearl Harbor was bombed. She assumed she would be interned as an “enemy alien” but Japanese authorities instead told her to give up her U.S. citizenship. She refused. Iva remained at her aunt's home, was considered an “American spy” by her neighbors, and finally found work as a translator at a Japanese news agency. Shortly after this, she learned that her entire family had been interned at the Gila River Relocation Center, where they would spend WW II behind barbed-wire.
Later she met a Portugese-Japanese pacifist, Felippe d’Aquino, who became her best friend and paid her medical bills when she was hospitalized for beriberi and scurvy, the result of her inability to get good food. Desperate for money, she took an additional job at Radio Tokyo as an English-language typist. There she met three POWs on loan to that radio station: Australian Major Charles Cousens, a captured at Singapore, Captain Wallace Ince (U.S. Army) and Lt. Norman Reyes of the Philippines, all of whom had radio experience. Under the noses of the Japanese, their assigned program, Zero Hour, was filled with sly digs at the Japanese, sarcasm, and planned flubs. They trusted Iva, who was smuggling medicine and food to them from her own meager supplies. While the Japanese assumed that Zero Hour was demoralizing the American troops it was aimed at, Cousens’ group assured that never happened.
The trio brought Iva to the microphone since she shared their views and would not betray them. Beginning in November, 1943, she played records and talked to the GI’s as “Ann” which Cousens later changed to “Orphan Ann.” Zero Hour was soon expanded to 75 minutes, of which she had 20 minutes. Her theme song was Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band”, the fight song from her alma mater. While her listening audience of American GI’s and sailors nicknamed her “Tokyo Rose” she never used that name on the air.
While Iva was the usual female voice on “Zero Hour” many other English-speaking women were also on it, including Ruth Hayakawa, Mieko Furuya, and Mary Ishii. After her marriage to d’Aquino on April 19, 1945, Iva abandoned the mike, but a month later, when Denmark broke relations with Japan, she lost her paying job as a typist at the Danish embassy, so she had to return to her Radio Tokyo employment.
In August 1945, Japan surrendered, following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Iva and her new husband began plans to relocate to the U.S. She acknowledged her “Tokyo Rose” identity in a press conference with dozens of U.S. reporters, but pointed out that she had never broadcast any anti-U.S. propaganda and had been loyal to her native country. None the less, she was arrested on October 17, 1945 and thrown in a tiny cell In Sugamo Prison, used by the American Army to hold Japanese war criminals, where she would spent the next year. During that period her mother died and the rest of her family moved to a suburb of Chicago to start their life anew.
The legal section of the 8th Army concluded there was no evidence that Iva had committed any treasonous acts and she was released from military custody in October 1946. During the ensuing months, as she struggled to get back to the U.S., the American media, led by Walter Winchell, demanded she be brought to trial for treason. More tragedy struck: in January 1948 her son died the day after he was born in Tokyo.
The Department of Justice, yielding to media pressure, arrested her in April 1948 and threw her back in a Tokyo prison. She would remain incarcerated there, with no attorney access, for the next five months, but she remained convinced her trial would prove her innocence. In September 1948 she was taken by ship to San Francisco where she would await her trial, which did not begin until July 1949.
The deck was stacked against her. The prosecution brought from Japan only witnesses who would testify against her; other witnesses were prevented from coming to the U.S. The defense was able to produce only three witnesses from overseas, all of whom were harassed by U.S. judicial authorities before and during her trial.
Despite 13 weeks of testimony, making it the most expensive trial in U.S. history, the jury took only three days to produce a guilty verdict. In October 1949, she was sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined $10,000. Six weeks later, she was transported to the federal women’s prison in West Virginia where she would be behind bars for over six years. A model prisoner, she earned time for good behavior and was released in July 1956.
The government’s animosity toward Iva did not end then, for U.S. officials spent the next two years trying unsuccessfully to deport her to Japan, despite her U.S. citizenship. Her insurance policy was seized to help pay her $ 10,000 fine and her family was hounded until they paid every penny. The U.S. also destroyed her marriage, banishing her husband from this country; they never saw each other again.
By the early 70s, the tide was slowly turning in favor of this gentle lady as various individuals and groups began to believe in her innocence. In March 1976 the Chicago Tribune published statements from the two strongest witnesses against her at the trial, who now recanted their testimony. That same year, she was able to tell her true story on 60 Minutes and all the revelations led President Gerald Ford to pardon her in 1977, making her the first person in the U.S. to be convicted of treason and then pardoned.
In the 1980s and 1990s, I suggested several times to FOTR convention at Newark that an invitation be extended to Iva Toguri, but the committee would not consider it. During one convention I presented a panel on “WW II Radio Renegades” and explained how her innocence had been established.
Jean Hay, who was known for her radio show “Reveille With Beverly” during WW II aired to military personnel in 54 countries, said in 2003 “Iva was doing her part for the U.S. war effort during WW II. I now call her my friend and colleague.” In the Winter 2004-05 publication of the WW II Veterans Committee the complete history of Iva Toguri was set forth. The author, Tim G.W. Holbert concluded: ”It is clear that Iva Toguri not only wants, but deserves, to be remembered as a loyal and patriotic American.” That same veteran’s group presented Toguri with the Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award on January 15. 2006.
The internet offers many updates of Iva’s history and current status; obviously some are more accurate than others. Dafydd Neal Dyar of Portland, OR is the webmaster of one of the best sites: http://www.dyarstraights.com/orphan_ann/orphanan.html
He and his associate, Barbara Trembley, can forward by email any communications to Iva , who is retired in Chicago, IL.
This gracious, patriotic lady will be 90 years old on July 4th. What a wonderful gesture it would be if every OTR fan who reads this article will send her birthday greetings. I shall, and I hope you will too.
ADDENDUM: In less than four months after this article was originally published, Iva Toguri died, on September 26, 2006. To the very end of her long life, she remained a loyal and dedicated U.S. citizen.