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Iva Toguri D'Aquino, 90; 'Tokyo Rose' in WWII

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 28, 2006

Iva Ikuko Toguri D'Aquino, 90, an American woman branded "Tokyo Rose" during World War II, imprisoned for making treasonous radio broadcasts and decades later exonerated with a presidential pardon, died Sept. 26 at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. No cause of death was reported.

Although nearly a dozen female broadcasters were given the moniker during World War II, Mrs. D'Aquino was the one most tarred by the name Tokyo Rose, which, along with the name of Japanese War Minister Hideki Tojo, came to personify Axis infamy in the Pacific.

Taunting millions of servicemen with stories of infidelity on the home front, false reports of battle outcomes meant to demoralize them and frequent spins of pop songs to keep them listening, the broadcasts of Radio Tokyo were notorious instruments in the propaganda war. Many American sailors and soldiers found the broadcasts cartoonishly incredible, which Mrs. D'Aquino said was exactly her intention.

The name Tokyo Rose was an American invention. On air, Mrs. D'Aquino called herself "Orphan Ann," a reference both to her favorite radio program as a child and her lonely status as an American trapped in enemy territory. She refused to renounce her U.S. citizenship during the war, and many described her as a victim of her own courage and naiveté.

Having landed in her ancestral homeland at precisely the worst moment to care for a sick aunt, she had been forced through circumstance to broadcast propaganda for the Japanese.

She and other captive Allied nationals decided to turn their ordeal on its head, deliberately making a hash of the propaganda. Mrs. D'Aquino, who had a gravelly voice and a slight lisp, was not what the enemy wanted: a sultry-voiced villainess to tease American listeners who were away from home.

With anti-Japanese fervor still peaking after the war, great media and political pressure was applied to finding "Tokyo Rose." Treason trials had commenced for Mildred Gillars, the American known as "Axis Sally" for her pro-Nazi broadcasts from Berlin and American-born William Joyce, known as "Lord Haw-Haw" for his radio propaganda messages beamed to England from Germany during the war.

Gillars was imprisoned; Joyce hanged.

Mrs. D'Aquino's case seemed different. Reports from Gen. Douglas MacArthur and the Army's Counterintelligence Corps indicated that she had done nothing treasonable in her broadcasts. But Walter Winchell, the powerful and vitriolic broadcast personality, and the American Legion lobbied relentlessly for a trial.

Mrs. D'Aquino, a raven-haired woman with a tender moon face, was the only one of the Tokyo Roses arrested by U.S. authorities after the Japanese surrender. She was found guilty of treason after a judge pressured a deadlocked jury to render a verdict.

"I supposed they found someone and got the job done, they were all satisfied," she later told the CBS News program "60 Minutes." "It was eeny, meeny, miney and I was 'moe,' " she said.

She served part of her prison term, lived quietly in Chicago and gradually watched as people took up her case for a pardon. After testimony against her was discredited, President Gerald R. Ford pardoned her in January 1977 as one of his last acts in office.

Born to Japanese immigrants in Los Angeles on Independence Day in 1916, Iva Ikuko Toguri led a comfortable, middle-class life as a child. Her father was a small-business owner who tried to assimilate, and his daughter grew up speaking no Japanese.

She attended a Methodist church, played tennis and piano and enjoyed hiking and swing music. During her school years, she "was a popular student and was considered a loyal American," the FBI Web site said.

She cared for her mother, who was disabled by diabetes, and hoped to pursue a career in medicine. She graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1941 with a zoology degree.

When an aunt in Japan became gravely ill, she was asked by the family to visit Japan and care for her. Mrs. D'Aquino did not have time to apply for a passport, but the U.S. State Department gave her a certificate of identification that allowed her to travel.

Arriving in Japan in July 1941, she was at a loss: She neither spoke the language nor could stomach the food. She was said to have "detested rice" and to have packed a supply of chocolate, coffee and canned meat to avoid eating the local cuisine, according to the World War II Veterans Committee publication "World War II Chronicles."

Trapped in Japan

After the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that December, she could not leave Japan. In the face of pressure by the Japanese government, she refused to renounce her U.S. citizenship. Japanese authorities labeled her, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans in Japan at the time, an enemy alien and denied her a food-ration card.

The authorities declined to place her with other foreign nationals, as she had requested, and instead, she found herself under constant surveillance and harassment by the Kempeitai, or military police.

She also was without help from her aunt and uncle, who threw her out of their home when she began voicing pro-American sentiments. She found clerical jobs at the Danish Embassy and taught piano. She endured hospital stays for malnutrition, beriberi and gastrointestinal disorders. She borrowed money from friends, including a sympathetic Portuguese national named Filipe d'Aquino, whom she married in 1945.

She became a typist at Radio Tokyo and soon went to work in an office with, among others, Australian broadcaster Charles H. Cousens, who had been captured in Singapore and forced into duty reading the most revolting propaganda on a program called "Zero Hour." In exchange for following the Japanese-approved script, Cousens arranged to read the names of prisoners of war, which he hoped would be of help to Allied families.

Meanwhile, Mrs. D'Aquino brought food and clothing to the starving Allied broadcasters. When radio authorities insisted on a woman's presence on the radio, Cousens recommended Mrs. D'Aquino, whom he came to admire after realizing that she was not a secret agent of the Kempeitai.

After she went on air in November 1943, she and Cousens tried to make a farce of the broadcasts. Hiring Mrs. D'Aquino, with her "gin fog voice," was ideal, Cousens later said. "In view of my idea of making the program a complete burlesque, it was just what I wanted," he added.

Propaganda officials, who were largely incompetent, had little feel for their nuance and double entendres.

Mrs. D'Aquino's average time on each program was about 20 minutes, during which she introduced popular records of the day, sometimes with an aural wink: "So be on guard, and mind the children don't hear! All set? Okay! Here's the first blow to your morale -- the Boston Pops playing 'Strike Up the Band!' "

To Japanese ears, she was highly effective, and station officials rebuffed her several attempts to leave the job. Ecstatic at the war's conclusion in 1945, she again found herself desperate to survive in a miserable postwar economy. She applied for a U.S. passport, because she had not renounced her citizenship, but she made an error of judgment by trying to capitalize on her "Tokyo Rose" fame.

A writer with Cosmopolitan magazine offered to pay her $2,000 -- a fortune at the time -- if she would sign a contract as "the one and only 'Tokyo Rose.' " But the magazine's editors duped her into holding a large press conference that effectively scuttled the "exclusive" and freed Cosmopolitan from any financial obligation.

Mrs. D'Aquino was pleased by all of the attention, at first. She thought the gregarious reporters were admirers who understood her intentions to deliberately undermine the propaganda she was told to broadcast. She did not know that the Cosmopolitan reporter had taken his story to the Army and claimed that it was Mrs. D'Aquino's "confession."

Fallout of Fame

In October 1945, Army officials arrested her and held her for a year in a 6-by-9-foot cell at Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. She was permitted a 20-minute visit with her husband every month and to wash every three days.

During her imprisonment, she received word that her mother had died. She was abused by guards who kept lights on in her cell until she would sign an autograph. However, no charges were brought against her, and she was released.

She became pregnant in the late 1940s and sought to return to the United States to see her first child born there. In a weakened condition from her prison stay, she lost the baby soon after its birth.

Some of her Allied peers at the radio station were exonerated in their homelands, including Cousens, but the political atmosphere in the United States had turned ugly. Winchell's constant broadcasts magnifying her role during the war led to her re-arrest in 1948. Brought back to the United States on a troop ship, she faced trial in San Francisco the next year. She had been away for eight years.

Cousens and other Allied acquaintances testified on her behalf. The prosecution's case relied heavily on the eyewitness testimony of two of her co-workers at "Zero Hour." The charge that hurt Mrs. D'Aquino was having allegedly said in a 1944 broadcast: "Orphans of the Pacific, you are really orphans now. How will you get home now that your ships are sunk?"

The broadcast, which aired shortly after the Allied victory against Japan in the Leyte Gulf near the Philippines, was viewed with skepticism at the time but was used against Mrs. D'Aquino in her 1949 trial.

After the all-white jury deadlocked, the judge instructed them to continue deliberating because the trial had been "long and expensive." The 13-week trial cost $750,000.

Charged with eight counts of treason, she was convicted on one, for having spoken "into a microphone concerning the loss of ships." She was the seventh person in U.S. history to be convicted of treason, according to the FBI.

She was stripped of her U.S. citizenship and received a sentence of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. She was sent to a federal women's prison in Alderson, W.Va., where she was said to have spent many hours playing bridge with "Axis Sally" Gillars.

Released after six years for good behavior, Mrs. D'Aquino worked quietly to exonerate herself.

By then, her personal life had crumbled. Her husband came to her defense during the trial only to be bullied into signing an agreement never again to enter the United States. Their separation -- she declined to leave the United States -- led to their reluctant divorce.

After leaving prison, she settled in Chicago and worked with her father at a small import shop to pay off the fine after repeated threats by the Justice Department.

Petitions began circulating for her exoneration, but little was done at the executive level until news reports began to question the testimony that led to her conviction.

Kenkichi Oki, a "Zero Hour" colleague who had testified against Mrs. D'Aquino, told the Chicago Tribune that he "had no choice" but to testify against Mrs. D'Aquino because of threats from the FBI that "Uncle Sam might arrange a trial for us, too."

The jury foreman told reporters that he felt pressure from the judge and wished he "had a little more guts to stick with my vote for acquittal."

After she was pardoned by Ford in 1977, her citizenship was restored. She said she regretted that the pardon came about four years after her father's death. She described her father's reaction to her experiences: "You were like a tiger, you never changed your stripes, you stayed American through and through."

Until her death, she lived in welcome anonymity in Chicago, allowing herself pleasures such as quilting and concerts at the Chicago Lyric Opera.

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