Iva Toguri’s story is a captivating tale of isolation, persecution, and patriotism. Throughout her “Tokyo Rose” ordeal she was steadfast in the belief that someday she would be vindicated. Below is a brief anecdote from my book Scoundrels Who Made America Great.
After the Japanese surrender, Toguri thought that her troubles as a Radio Tokyo broadcaster were over. She and her husband Felipe made plans for their trip back to the States. But U.S. newspapers would not let go of the Tokyo Rose story. “Iva Toguri d’Aquino, one of four bedroom -voiced girl broadcasters the Allied soldiers called ‘Tokyo Rose,’ wants eventually to return to her native country, she said today,” warned the August 1, 1947, Long Beach Press Telegram. The November 6,1947, Cumberland Ohio Evening Times stated, “Tokyo Rose, the wartime radio broadcaster who sank more fleets that America built, wants to go home to the U.S.”
Meanwhile, Toguri continued to be stymied in her attempt to get a U.S. passport. She was trapped in a revolving bureaucratic paradox. First, despite Tokko harassment, she refused to give up her American citizenship. Then American authorities imprisoned her for a year on suspicion of treason as a U.S. citizen—but Toguri’s passport application was rebuffed because she could not prove her U.S. citizenship. There seemed no end to this nightmare merry-go-round. Desperate, Toguri wrote a letter to the syndicated columnist Walter Winchell. She asked him to help with her passport application. When Winchell did not reply, Toguri believed she had run into another dead end. What she didn’t know was that Winchell was hell-bent on getting Toguri returned to the States, but not in the way she imagined.
In 1947 Walter Winchell was one of the most powerful men in America. His newspaper columns, “On Broadway” and “Man About Town,” mixed right-wing political opinion with entertainment-world gossip. His Sunday evening radio show, which opened with the incessant tapping of a telegraph key and his trademark introduction, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and all the ships at sea,” had an audience of nearly twenty million. He was feared by politicians and admired by gangsters. President Roosevelt tried to stay on his good side. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was one of his best friends. Winchell’s favorite targets were liberals and communists, but what he loved best was a good crusade. After he read Toguri’s letter, Winchell launched a mission of righteous indignation. Winchell wanted Iva Toguri d’Aquino to return to the United States, but not to join her family. He wanted “Tokyo Rose” to stand trial for treason.
On April 14, 1948, Winchell published an open letter to Tokyo Rose from Captain Frank Farrell, a veteran who had served in the Pacific with the 1st Marine Division. Saturated with sarcasm, the letter accused Tokyo Rose of convincing Marines that the atabrine tablets they took to prevent malaria made them sterile. Many Marines died of malaria, said Farrell, because of Tokyo Rose. The political pressure to prosecute Toguri gained steam when, in a public statement, James F. O’Neil, commander of the American Legion, demanded that the Justice Department prosecute Iva Toguri d’Aquino for treason. On June 9, 1948, Winchell claimed that Clark Lee had in his possession an eighteen-page document in which Iva Toguri confessed to being Tokyo Rose. In later years the journalist Bill Kurtis described the campaign to prosecute Iva Toguri d’Aquino as the persecution of a person in order to exact revenge on a myth. (Encyclopedia of World Biography).
As far as the U.S. Department of Justice was concerned, the myth Tokyo Rose and the person Iva Toguri d’Aquino were one and the same. On August 26, 1948, Toguri was once again arrested for treason. Under military guard she was put aboard the U.S.S. General Hodges and transported to the United States to stand trial. Iva Toguri d’Aquino was finally going home. Three weeks later, her odyssey complete, Toguri set foot on American soil. Instead of the homecoming with family and friends that she had yearned for, she was whisked to the San Francisco jail. A month later the U.S. attorney general indicted Toguri for treason.