New York Daily News
Jul. 9, 2006 12:00 AM
NEW YORK - They branded her "Tokyo Rose," but Iva Toguri was no traitor.
When she turned 90 on Tuesday - the Fourth of July - that fact probably gave her little comfort, however.
Because to many Americans, Toguri was Tokyo Rose, the sultry siren whose radio broadcasts from Japan demoralized GIs fighting in the Pacific during World War II.
Never mind that President Ford pardoned Toguri after her treason trial was revealed to be a sham. Never mind that U.S. veterans groups have since embraced her.
The stigma still dogs Toguri's steps. So she marked her birthday the way she has been living since she was released from prison, quietly and far from prying eyes.
"She's not crazy about publicity," said Ron Yates, a former Chicago Tribune reporter whose stories about Toguri's rigged treason trial helped win her the presidential pardon. "Her entire life was destroyed by a miscarriage of justice, and you couldn't be more American than she was."
Toguri, who declined to be interviewed for this article, lives on the north side of Chicago. She still pops in to J. Toguri Mercantile, the imported Japanese goods store her dad opened after the war. But she spends most of her time with her nephews and nieces.
"She's spry, funny, a tough lady," Yates said. "What happened to her is a tragedy."
Born Ikuko Toguri in Los Angeles to immigrants, Toguri was an all-American girl. A Girl Scout, a Methodist, a Republican, she loved big band music and hated sushi. She insisted on being called Iva.
A few months before Pearl Harbor, Toguri traveled to Japan to visit a sick aunt. When the war broke out, she was stranded in Tokyo.
Toguri resisted Japanese pressure to renounce her U.S. citizenship. But desperate for money, she agreed to work on Zero Hour, a Japanese propaganda radio show manned by Allied prisoners.
Playing on the name of her favorite cartoon character, "Orphan Ann" Toguri did comedy skits and introduced newscasts. And she used some of her earnings to feed starving POWs and help support her husband, a Portuguese national of Japanese descent named Felipe D'Aquino.
After Japan surrendered, two reporters offered 0 to anyone who could identify Tokyo Rose, the name given by U.S. forces to several English-speaking female broadcasters of Japanese propaganda. Somebody fingered Toguri, and she was arrested by military police.
Jailed for a year, Toguri was released after the FBI found no evidence she aided the Japanese. But when columnist Walter Winchell learned Toguri was trying to return home, he led a crusade to have her rearrested and tried.
Toguri was eventually convicted of treason and sentenced to 10 years in prison when two former colleagues at the radio station testified that she had made propaganda broadcasts. She served six years before she was released.
Federal authorities tried to deport her, but she resisted. She moved to Chicago and tried to start over, without her husband. The couple had been forcibly separated since Toguri was brought to the United States for trial. Their baby had died shortly after birth. Realizing they would never be reunited, the couple finally divorced. D'Aquino died in 1996.
Toguri's fortunes improved when Yates tracked down her accusers, who admitted they lied under pressure from prosecutors. That led to a 60 Minutes report that persuaded Ford to restore her citizenship.
Yates said he fears Toguri will never escape Tokyo Rose, because the myth has been more enduring than the truth.
"I, like everybody else, assumed she was a traitor," he said.