'Tokyo Rose' Vindicated Before Her Death

At a January luncheon in Chicago, the World War II Veterans Committee presented its Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award to a diminutive, 89-year-old Japanese-American woman named Iva Toguri.

The ceremony was laden with emotion and rich with irony. The Citizenship Award was presented to a woman whose American citizenship had been stripped from her in 1949 and restored by Gerald Ford in 1977 as his last act as President. The award is named for the late, a famous broadcaster whose narration of the wartime Universal newsreels won him the nickname “The Voice of World War II.” The recipient was also a broadcaster who had an even more famous nickname: Tokyo Rose.

In tearful and poignant remarks accepting the award, Mrs. Toguri called the day the “most memorable” of her life, a remarkable statement considering the incredible experiences she has had, particularly during and following World War II. And yet the award was also a powerful vindication of Miss Toguri, helping to redress an enormous injustice done to her by the U.S. government. Most injurious was a vendetta against Miss Toguri carried out by the Justice Department over a period of years and culminating in the most expensive trial in U.S. history to that point, a trial that ended with the conviction of an innocent and patriotic Japanese-American woman on a trumped up charge of treason.

Miss Toguri’s story, including her prosecution, more than eight years of imprisonment and stoic suffering under the traitorous “Tokyo Rose” burden, then the admission by her two accusers that they had perjured themselves, her pardon by Gerald Ford, the restoration of her citizenship and her ultimate vindication are the stuff that great movies are made of. And in Miss Toguri’s case, in fact, Paramount has a film of her life in the works.

Iva Toguri’s story hinges on a cruel twist of fate.

Roberts presents Toguri with Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award

Born on the 4th of July 1916 in Los Angeles to Japanese-American parents, Miss Toguri grew up in a middle-class family determined to assimilate into the American mainstream. She was a Girl Scout and grew up a Methodist and a Republican, a lover of pop culture (Orphan Annie was her favorite cartoon character). She matriculated at UCLA, with the goal of becoming a doctor.

The young Iva spoke almost no Japanese and hated Japanese food. All in all, she was thoroughly Americanized.

Then in June 1941 a letter arrived from her mother’s sister Shizu who had remained in Japan. Shizu’s health was failing and she begged Iva’s mother to come to Japan for one last visit. Her mother was also in poor health, however, and her father and brother were busy running the family business, so Iva had to go. Reluctantly she boarded a ship bound for Japan for what she thought would be a six-month visit. Lacking time to acquire a U.S. passport, Miss Toguri settled for a certificate attesting that she was an American citizen, a routine procedure at the time.

Once in Japan, Miss Toguri immediately applied for a passport at the American consulate. The application process went slowly, however, and meanwhile U.S- Japanese relations were deteriorating.

On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. and Japan were suddenly at war. A frightened Iva Toguri found herself trapped in the capital of the Japanese empire seven thousand miles from home.

A very insular people, the Japanese were suspicious of foreigners and put heavy pressure on the “Nisei,” or Japanese-Americans living in Japan, to renounce their American citizenship. Many succumbed to the pressure. Iva Toguri refused.

Desperate for money, Miss Toguri found work as a typist at the Domei News Agency and at the embassy of Denmark.

In the summer of 1943, following a two-month illness, she responded to an ad from Radio Tokyo soliciting English-speaking typists.

At about that time the Japanese military decided to step up their radio propaganda broadcasts by bringing in three Allied POWs: Australian Maj. Charles Cousens, American Capt. Wallace Ince, and Lt. Norman Reyes, a Filipino—to run a new daily radio program called the “Zero Hour.”

Maj. Cousens had been a radio broadcaster in Australia and he resolved to use the “Zero Hour” to entertain, rather than demoralize U.S. personnel listening in and even to insert subtle anti-Japanese messages. To accomplish this he persuaded his reluctant Japanese captors to let him control the script writing for the programs, arguing that they would sound more authentically American to the listeners than if the Japanese wrote them.

Cousens had come to know Iva Toguri because of her pro-American sentiments and he persuaded her to broadcast for him, even though she had no radio experience.

She joined approximately a dozen other women in this project, many of whom had been broadcasting for Radio Tokyo for years.

The American GIs listening to Radio Tokyo had already given the name “Tokyo Rose” to this composite of women before Iva Toguri began broadcasting for the service.

For her part, Iva Toguri took the name “Orphan Ann” in honor of her favorite comic strip. In voicing the scripts provided to her by Cousens, she introduced news and did comedy skits, some of them subtly poking fun at the Japanese.

She continued to reject Japanese demands that she renounce her citizenship and she used some of her meager earnings to buy food and medicine for American POWs living at the prison where Cousens was being held.

Meanwhile Miss Toguri married Portuguese national Felipe d’ Aquino and at war’s end was expecting a baby. Listening to foreign broadcasts, she was aware of the defeats being suffered by the Japanese and she rooted secretly for an American victory.

With Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the American press descended on Tokyo in droves. High on their list of 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 to pocket the $250 reward, singled out Iva Toguri.

When Brundidge and Lee tracked down Miss Toguri, she said that she was confused by the name “Tokyo Rose” and that she was one of many women who had broadcast for Radio Tokyo during the war.

Finally, when it was explained to her that she had been identified as Tokyo Rose, she naively accepted the identity. Worse, against the advice of her husband, Miss Toguri agreed to tell her story to Cosmopolitan magazine for $2,000. The publication never paid, but her fate was sealed: Iva Toguri was Tokyo Rose. She was seized by American military police and imprisoned for a year while her case was investigated.

Finally, after the investigation found the charges of treason and aiding the enemy unfounded, she was released and attempted to return to the United States

By this time, however, America was awash in Tokyo Rose hysteria and in early 1946 a movie titled Tokyo Rose was released. It featured a sultry, malevolent traitor who taunted the American GIs about unfaithful wives and girlfriends and fictitious American defeats–the exact opposite of the persona and conduct of Iva Toguri.

Feeding on the public frenzy about “Tokyo Rose,” columnist Walter Winchell began a crusade to have Iva Toguri arrested, brought to the U.S and tried for treason.

In mid August of 1948—a presidential election year—the Truman Justice Department bowed to the growing pressure and ordered Toguri arrested. On September 3 she was arrested in secret and put on a transport ship bound for San Francisco.

Arriving ill and impoverished, Iva Toguri was put on trial, charged by a federal grand jury with committing eight acts of treason. The resulting trial lasted 13 weeks and cost $750,000—the most expensive trial in U.S. history to that date.

Ably defended by her attorney Wayne Mortimer Collins, who took up her cause as a personal crusade, most of the government’s flimsy case was effectively destroyed, with several of Toguri’s former colleagues (including Maj. Cousens) testifying passionately in her behalf.

Under heavy government pressure, however, two former colleagues, Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, testified that on one occasion they heard Miss Toguri tell her listeners about a “loss of ships.” On this shred of testimony, Toguri was convicted of one count of treason. Even this verdict came only after the jury foreman, John Mann, announced that the jurors could not reach a decision. Judge, Michael Roche ordered Mann to reconvene the jury and gave a heavily slanted definition of treason. Years later John Mann said that the verdict was a mistake and that he would regret it for the rest of his life.

Toguri was then thrown into prison to serve a 10-year sentence. She ended up serving six years of that sentence–making a total of eight and a half years of incarceration. Her husband, denied entry into the United States, divorced her.

Miss Toguri’s ordeal was worsened by the cruel irony that it was her refusal to give up her American citizenship that made it possible for the U.S. government to put her on trial for treason.

Upon her release Miss Toguri was presented with a deportation order by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, an order she fought for two years with the aid of Wayne Collins.

Finally, the deportation order was dropped and Toguri moved to Chicago to join her family. who managed an Oriental souvenir shop.

As the years passed, Toguri lived quietly but doggedly pursued an effort to regain her American citizenship. Her story came to the attention of Bill Kurtis, anchor for WBBM-TV in Chicago and he gradually gained Iva Yoguri’s trust, at length persuading her to be interviewed. The result was “The Story of Tokyo Rose,” a 30-minute TV documentary aired by CBS on Nov. 4, 1969, the first time a favorable story about Iva Toguri had appeared.

Another breakthrough came seven years later. In early 1976, Ron Yates, the Tokyo bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune interviewed Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio, the two men whose testimony had convicted Iva. After questioning by Yates, the two admitted that they had perjured themselves under heavy pressure from the FBI and the occupation police, who had told them that, unless they cooperated, they might find themselves under indictment.

Now the two men admitted, that Iva had done nothing wrong. Yates wrote a series of articles for the Tribune, based on interviews with Oki and Mitshushio and others involved in the case, making a powerful case for Toguri’s innocence. The articles were picked up by several wire services and more than 500 newspapers and led to a growing effort to clear Iva Toguri’s name and to restore her American citizenship.

Yates said of the two men: “It was a very emotional time for both of them, too. They were very contrite obviously for what they had done. They felt very bad about it. They decided to tell me about it I think because I was from the Chicago Tribune, and they knew that Iva would see the story. I think that was the reason at that point to tell the truth. They asked me during lunch if Iva would ever forgive us and I said, I don’t know, I’ve never met Iva, I think it’s a pretty hard thing to do, given what’s happened to her. They said we feel really bad about it, wish it hadn’t happened but it did.” And they just wanted the story out.

Yates added: “I think the thing that makes this so important to me was that it was two journalists who got her into trouble and I was just happy that it was a journalist who helped right a wrong a little bit and the fact that I was able to talk with these two men, and over time spend time with them to the point where they felt they just needed to own up. And they did that.”

Shortly thereafter, “60 Minutes” broadcast a favorable report on Iva Toguri narrated by Morley Safer. Following this program pressure mounted for a presidential pardon and in January of 1977, on his last day in office. President Gerald Ford granted Iva Toguri a full presidential pardon and restored her citizenship.

In the 30 years since, Miss Toguri has jealously guarded her privacy, declining a multitude of interview requests. Though fully vindicated she had continued to suffer under ongoing misconceptions about her guilt perpetrated in the press.

A potentially powerful antidote to these misconceptions is in the offing, however.

Frank Darabont, renowned producer of films including “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption” has announced that he will produce a movie about Iva Toguri’s story.

Another important development came in January with the Award to Miss Toguri of the World War II Veterans Committee’s Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award.

The citation reads in part:

“The Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award for 2005 is presented to Iva Toguri in recognition of her courage, patriotism and loyalty to American ideals, steadfastly maintained despite enormous cost to herself.

Throughout an ordeal that has lasted decades, Iva Toguri has endured her fate with dignity, courage and a deep faith in God and in the essential fairness of the American system.

For her indomitable spirit, her love of country and the example of courage, she has given her fellow Americans, the World War II Veterans Committee proudly bestows the 2005 Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award on Iva Toguri.”

As a medal was hung around her neck, a tearful Iva Toguri said: “I know that for so many years I wanted to be positive on this whole thing. 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 all of the World War II veterans and the World War II Veterans Committee for making this the most memorable day of my life.”