Convicted as ‘Tokyo Rose,’ She Later Received Honors

Times Staff Writer

Trapped while visiting Japan at the start of World War II, U.S. citizen Iva Toguri became known to millions by a radio handle she never used: Tokyo Rose, the “siren of the Pacific” whose broadcasts were meant to demoralize American servicemen fighting in the Pacific theater.

But there was one problem: A single Tokyo Rose didn’t exist. U.S. servicemen branded any English-speaking female radio broadcaster of Japanese propaganda with the name, and there were at least a dozen.

Forces under Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s command and the U.S. Justice Department independently concluded that Toguri had committed no crime. Yet the Los Angeles native was the only Tokyo Rose to be prosecuted. She was convicted of treason in 1949 and served more than six years in prison.


Two decades later, journalists revisited her story and helped clear her name, painting her as a victim of racism and wartime hysteria.

“They wound up prosecuting the myth instead of the person,” said Bill Kurtis, the broadcast journalist whose 1969 documentary for CBS, “The Story of Tokyo Rose,” first told Toguri’s side of the story.

Toguri, who received a presidential pardon in 1977, died Tuesday of complications of old age at Advocate Illinois Masonic Hospital in Chicago, said Barbara Trembley, a family spokeswoman. She was 90.

She had lived to see herself hailed as a hero by former servicemen who wanted to right “a grotesque miscarriage of justice,” said James Roberts, president of the World War II Veterans Committee.

At a private ceremony in January in Chicago, Toguri wept when she received the veterans’ Edward J. Herlihy Citizenship Award -- named for the radio broadcaster known for narrating World War II newsreels.

She called it “the most memorable day of my life.”

Those who tell her story like to point out that she was born on the Fourth of July, 1916. Raised by Japanese immigrants in a predominantly white neighborhood in Compton, she spoke almost no Japanese. She attended a Methodist church, was a Girl Scout, loved big bands and hated sushi.


A month after graduating from UCLA with a degree in zoology in June 1941, she was sent to Japan to care for her mother’s dying sister. Her mother, who was too ill to travel, died the next year on her way to a Japanese American internment camp. Near the end of Toguri’s planned six-month stay, Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Stranded, and classified as an enemy alien, Toguri was constantly harassed by the Japanese government. Taunted by neighbors for harboring an enemy, her relatives asked her to leave.

She asked Japanese authorities to imprison her with other American nationals, but she was eventually forced to work on the English-language “Zero Hour,” a Radio Tokyo show staffed by Allied prisoners that aired from 1943 to 1945.

“It was not propaganda, so to speak. It was produced by POWs for POWs and their parents,” Kurtis said. “Her voice sounded like an American teenager, and that’s what they wanted.”

The only radio alias Toguri used was “Orphan Ann” because she often said during her broadcasts that she was an announcer who had been orphaned in Tokyo by the war. She performed comedy skits and introduced newscasts.

Three POWs with previous broadcast experience were her co-workers, and they promised to try to avoid spreading propaganda by delivering the broadcasts in such a farcical way that they wouldn’t be believed. As they became friends, she risked her welfare for them, purchasing food and medicine.


As the war went on, she married a Portuguese national, Felipe d’Aquino, who worked at another radio station.

After Japan’s surrender in August 1945, the American press descended on Tokyo, intending to find Tokyo Rose. Two American journalists offered $250 to anyone who could identify the radio broadcaster, and a former employee of Radio Tokyo pointed to Toguri.

American military police arrested her, but an investigation found no grounds for the charges of treason and aiding the enemy. After a year, Toguri was released and she petitioned to return to the United States.

Back home, a myth of war had gone Hollywood.

The 1946 movie “Tokyo Rose” presented the title character as a sultry, malevolent traitor who taunted American soldiers. Commentator Walter Winchell crusaded to have Toguri rearrested, unleashing a series of radio broadcasts attacking the attorney general for “laxness” in dealing with the case.

Pressure steadily built on the administration of President Truman to “make an example of somebody” in 1948.

As Toguri said in 1976 of her role as a postwar scapegoat, “It was eenie, meenie, minie ... and I was moe.”


Secretly arrested in Japan, she was sent to San Francisco and tried on eight counts. The 13-week trial cost $750,000, which was then reported to be the most expensive trial in U.S. history.

After she was convicted on one count of treason, jury foreman John Mann said he would regret the verdict for the rest of his life.

Her offense boiled down to two sentences that she allegedly uttered on the radio: “Orphans of the Pacific, you are really orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk?”

Her attorneys argued that the statement was not intended seriously and could not possibly have been taken that way, since the Allies had just won a major sea victory. Journalists have questioned whether she ever uttered the words.

Sentenced to 10 years, Toguri served six years and two months in a West Virginia federal prison. After her release in 1956, she was fined $10,000.

Her husband, who had come to San Francisco for the trial, was forced to sign a statement that he would never try to reenter the U.S. He divorced her in 1980.


After moving to Chicago, where relatives had resettled, she worked in the imported Japanese goods store her father had opened after the war.

She maintained a Greta Garbo-like silence about her past until she was contacted by Kurtis, then a young reporter at a local CBS affiliate. Her first post-prison interview became “The Story of Tokyo Rose.”

“When you separate out fact from myth, why, their case falls apart,” Kurtis said. “In this great admiration we have for the greatest generation, Iva Toguri should be included in those patriots loyal to America.”

Asked about patriotism in the face of such adversity, Toguri often quoted her father’s admonition: “A tiger doesn’t change his stripes.”

Another journalist, Ron Yates, became intrigued by the story while serving as Tokyo bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune. During a golf game, he asked a friend who had worked for Radio Tokyo about Tokyo Rose.

“He said, ‘She was convicted on really bad testimony.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ ” Yates told The Times on Wednesday.


His friend handed him the phone numbers for the two witnesses whose testimony had led to Toguri’s conviction.

“They said, ‘I think it’s time for us to come clean,’ ” Yates said. “They said they were coached for two months every day before the trial began. That kind of blew me away.”

The two former Radio Tokyo employees admitted they had perjured themselves under heavy pressure. Yates wrote a series of articles in 1976 that made a powerful case for Toguri’s innocence.

A “60 Minutes” broadcast on the case, reported by Morley Safer, was shown in early 1977.

In one of his last official acts in office, President Ford pardoned Toguri and restored her citizenship.

Several years ago, Toguri invited Yates to dinner.

“She sat across from me and said, ‘I always wanted to meet you and thank you. If it wasn’t for you I’d still be a criminal,’ ” Yates recalled Toguri saying.

“It was journalists who got you into trouble,” he replied. “And a journalist who kind of got you out.”