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Iva Toguri D'Aquino, a True American Rose

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Iva Toguri D'Aquino, who died this week at age 90, was convicted and later pardoned of being "Tokyo Rose," a World War II propagandist. NPR's Scott Simon, who met D'Aquino, reflects on a woman who was long, and wrongly, maligned.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

When I was in high school, we used to go into a store on Clark Street that sold teacups, chopsticks, rice paper and small China cats with upraised paws. The gray-haired woman behind the counter was courteous but seemed grim. You know who that is? people used to whisper. Tokyo Rose.

Iva Toguri, who died this week at the age of 90, was a young American student visiting Japan when Pearl Harbor was bombed. She was turned out by her family there and harassed by Japanese officials. By the way, her own family in California was put in a U.S. internment camp.

She took a job at Radio Tokyo to survive and wound up being one of about a dozen women who read baseball scores, played Doris Day and read propaganda scripts so silly - they were written that way by an Australian POW - she was sure that U.S. soldiers and sailors would laugh at them, which everyone that I ever met did.

When American reporters came to Tokyo in 1945, they searched for Tokyo Rose. Someone mentioned Iva Toguri. Alas, she had been a drama student and warmed to the role. She posed for pictures, blew kisses and signed autographs. The U.S. military found no grounds for treason but then the myth machine began.

A 1946 movie called Tokyo Rose, starring Lotus Long, showed a sultry, crafty, raven-haired traitor who taunted American soldiers. Commentator Walter Winchell clamored for the government to charge Tokyo Rose, even though there really was no one such person. Iva Toguri was simply the best known of 12.

Seven counts of treason were thrown out but she was convicted for reading a single bulletin about the sinking of a U.S. ship and saying, how will you get home now that your ships are sunk? Later, two people who testified confessed that they had been coached.

She served six years in prison and was finally pardoned by President Ford in 1977. She said she was proud to get back her rights as a U.S. citizen.

I talked to Iva Toguri over the years. She always refused interviews, and when I once approached her on a project she confided that she'd signed a contract to develop a movie about her life. If anyone was going to make money off her story, it was going to be her. She was known as a shrewd businesswoman in Chicago, owning neighborhood real estate and restaurants. I don't know why that movie's never been made, except as a character in a John Ford Western said, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

This year, the World War II Veterans Committee gave Iva Toguri an award because in wartime Japan and in the U.S. prison she never renounced her U.S. citizenship. As newsman Bill Curtis said yesterday, in this great admiration we have for the greatest generation, Iva Toguri should be included in those patriots loyal to America.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. DORIS DAY (Singer): (Singing) I'll never stop loving you. Whatever else I may do. My love for you will live till time itself is through. I'll never stop wanting you. And when forever...

SIMON: Doris Day. This is NPR News.

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Simon Says

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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small