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Iva Toguri, 90, branded as WWII 'Tokyo Rose'

WASHINGTON -- Iva Toguri, the American woman branded ``Tokyo Rose" during World War II who was imprisoned for making treasonous radio broadcasts and exonerated decades later with a presidential pardon, died Sept. 26 at her home in Chicago. She was 90. No cause of death was reported.

Although nearly a dozen female broadcasters were given the moniker during World War II, Ms. Toguri became most tarred with the name, which along with 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 them cartoonishly unbelievable, exactly what Ms. Toguri said she intended. The Navy Department mockingly cited her for ``contributing greatly to the morale" of the armed services.

The name Tokyo Rose was an American invention. On the air, Ms. Toguri 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. Refusing to renounce her US citizenship during the war, she was described by many as a victim of her own courage -- and naïveté.

She had been forced through circumstance to broadcast propaganda for the Japanese, having landed in her ancestral homeland at precisely the worst moment to care for a sick aunt. She and other captive Allies decided to turn their ordeal on its head, deliberately making a hash of the propaganda. To that end, Ms. Toguri, who had a gravelly voice and a slight lisp, was exactly wrong for what the enemy wanted: a sultry-voiced villainess to tease the American listeners away from home.

With anti-Japanese fervor still peaking after the war, great media and political pressure was applied to find ``Tokyo Rose." Other 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.

Ms. Toguri's case seemed different. Reports from General Douglas MacArthur and the Army's Counterintelligence Corps indicated she had done nothing treasonable in her broadcasts. But Walter Winchell, the powerful and vitriolic broadcast personality, and the American Legion lobbied hard for a trial. They were relentless and successful.

Ms. Toguri was the only one of the Tokyo Roses arrested by US authorities, and she was found guilty of treason by a judge who 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."

She served part of her prison term, lived quietly in Chicago, and gradually saw people take up her case for a pardon. After testimony against her was discredited, President Ford made her pardon one of his last acts in office in January 1977.

``It would be more or less general feelings of freedom that I want," she told reporters.

Born to Japanese immigrants on Independence Day 1916 in Los Angeles, Iva Ikuko Toguri led a comfortable, middle-class life in a predominately white enclave of Los Angeles. When her aunt in Japan became gravely ill, she was asked by the family to visit and care for her. She did not have time to apply for a passport, but the 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.

After the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor that December, the authorities declined to place her with other foreign nationals, as she had requested, and she instead found herself under constant surveillance and harassment by the secret police, the Kempeitai.

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 borrowed money from friends, including a sympathetic Portuguese national named Filipe d'Aquino, whom she later married. She became a typist at Radio Tokyo and soon went to work in an office with, among others, Australian broadcaster Charles Cousens, who had been captured at Corregidor and forced into duty reading the most revolting of 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, Ms. Toguri brought food and clothing to the starving Allied broadcasters. When the radio authorities insisted on a woman's presence on the radio, Cousens recommended Ms. Toguri, whom he came to admire after realizing 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 Ms. Toguri, with her ``gin fog voice," was ideal, Cousens later said, adding, ``In view of my idea of making the program a complete burlesque, it was just what I wanted."

The propaganda officials, largely incompetent, had little feel for their nuance and double entendres.

In one broadcast, she introduced a song this way: ``So be on guard, and mind the children don't hear! All set? OK! 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 her job. Ecstatic at the war's conclusion in 1945, she again found herself desperate to survive in a miserable postwar economy. She made an error of judgment by trying to capitalize on her ``Tokyo Rose" fame when a journalist with Cosmopolitan magazine tried to find the mysterious broadcaster.

Offering to pay her $2,000 -- a fortune -- the reporter persuaded her to sign a contract singling her out as ``the one and only `Tokyo Rose.' " The magazine's editors duped her into holding a large press conference that effectively scuttled the ``exclusive" part of the contract and freed Cosmopolitan from any financial obligation.

Ms. Toguri was pleased at all the attention, at first. She thought the gregarious reporters were admirers who understood her intentions to 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 it was her ``confession."

On April 19, 1945, Ms. Toguri married d'Aquino. Six months later Army officials arrested her and held her for a year in a 6-by-9-foot cell at Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. However, no charges were brought against her, and she was released.

She became pregnant 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.

While some of her Allied peers at the radio station were exonerated in their homelands, including Cousens, the political atmosphere in America had turned ugly. Winchell's constant broadcasts magnifying her role during the war led to her rearrest 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 eight years.

Cousens and other Allied acquaintances testified on her behalf. The prosecutor's case relied heavily on the eyewitness testimony of two co-workers at ``Zero Hour." The charge that stuck against Ms. Toguri 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?"

Charged with eight counts, she was convicted on one, for having spoken ``into a microphone concerning the loss of ships."

She was stripped of her 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, Ms. Toguri 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 importing 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 had convicted her.

After she was pardoned, her citizenship was restored. She said she regretted that the pardon came about four years after her father's death. She described his reaction over the years: `` `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 such pleasures as quilting and concerts at the Chicago Lyric Opera.

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