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Iva Toguri D'Aquino

Iva Toguri D’Aquino, a Japanese-American born and raised in Los Angeles, California, was convicted of treason on September 29, 1949 after being accused of being Tokyo Rose, the sultry-voiced radio announcer made famous for her morale-killing propaganda broadcasts in Tokyo to America GIs during World War II.

In July 1941 at the age of 25, D’Aquino, then a pre-med student at UCLA, traveled to Tokyo from Los Angeles to visit her sick aunt. Using a certificate of identification from the U.S. Department of State to travel to Japan, D’Aquino applied for a passport upon arrival but was rejected by the U.S. government due to questions about her citizenship. Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, leaving D'Aquino stranded in Japan as the U.S. entered the war.

Because she had spoken English at home, D’Aquino knew little Japanese and struggled to find work in Tokyo. Japanese authorities denied her a food ration card after she refused to denounce her U.S. citizenship, making the need for money ever more urgent. In mid-1942, she found a job as a typist for the Domei News Agency, where she would meet Felipe D’Aquino, a Portuguese national of Japanese and Portuguese descent, whom she married on April 19, 1945. On August 23, 1943, D’Aquino began working at Radio Tokyo as a part-time English-language typist.

A new radio show was created for Radio Tokyo during 1943 as part of an increased propaganda effort by the Japanese. The show was called Zero Hour, in reference to the feared Japanese fighter plane. The man in charge of the program, Major Shigetsugu Tsuneishi, employed three Allied POWs to read the broadcasts, which would be written by Japanese army propagandists, hoping that the propaganda would be more effective when read by American voices.

In November 1943, at the behest of George Mitsushio — a Japanese-American who was in charge of finding news stories for the broadcasts with the help of Kenlcichi Oki —D’Aquino was told she was to be placed as an announcer on Zero Hour. After initially hesitating due to her lack of experience in the field, D’Aquino was convinced by one of the POWs from the show and began her fateful run as an announcer. D’Aquino's segment of the hour-long show lasted for about 20 minutes each day, during which she read brief scripts that were written for her by the POWs — who had taken over script-writing responsibilities from the Japanese — and played popular music of the time. She went by the name “Orphan Ann,” with Ann being short for announcer and Orphan referring to either “Orphans of the Pacific,” which was the popular phrase used in American broadcasts to refer to American GIs, or to the comic strip “Little Orphan Annie.”

After the war ended, two American journalists offered a reward for the identity of the real Tokyo Rose. Tokyo Rose was the name of the alleged propaganda broadcaster in Tokyo who had become famous for her morale-killing broadcasts during the war. There was, however, no one real Tokyo Rose. The name was invented and used by American GIs to refer to the female broadcasters and did not refer to one specific person — none of the female announcers during that period used the name Tokyo Rose.

After receiving a tip from someone within Radio Tokyo, the journalists were able to obtain an interview with D’Aquino who the informant alleged was Tokyo Rose and ran an article in late 1945 identifying D’Aquino as Tokyo Rose, though she never admitted as much. On October 17, 1945, D’Aquino was arrested and held for a year. She was released on October 25, 1946 after authorities were unable to find sufficient evidence to warrant a prosecution.

Nearly two years later, the case was reopened after a powerful American journalist, Walter Winchell, protested D’Aquino's attempts to return to the U.S. D’Aquino was arrested in Tokyo and brought to San Francisco where she was arrested on September 25, 1948 for treason. On October 8 of the same year, she was indicted for eight counts of treason for aiding the Japanese government during World War II.

The trial began on July 5, 1949. It lasted 12 weeks and cost $750,000, making it the most expensive court case in American history at the time. While over 40 witnesses testified for the prosecution, testimonies from the POWs and Tsuneishi, the man in charge of Zero Hour, attested to D’Aquino’s innocence. But Kenkichi Oki and George Mitsushio from Radio Tokyo both testified to having witnessed overt acts of treason from D’Aquino, providing the necessary two eyewitnesses to overt acts of treason required to convict a person of treason. On September 29, 1949, the jury found D’Aquino guilty of one of the eight charges of treason, specifically for having spoken the words, “Now you fellows have lost all your ships. You really are orphans of the Pacific. Now how do you think you will ever get home?” On October 6, 1949, the judge sentenced D’Aquino to ten years in prison, fined her $10,000 and stripped her of her U.S. citizenship. D’Aquino was the seventh person in U.S. history to be convicted of treason. None of the POWs who had participated in Radio Tokyo and written the scripts were charged with treason, nor were Tsuneishi or more than 200 other Japanese-Americans who were employed by the Japanese government in propaganda roles. After her conviction, D’Aquino never again saw her husband, who was unable to obtain a visa to visit the U.S.

Six years and two months later, D’Aquino was released from prison for good behavior. Attempts to deport her were eventually dropped and D’Aquino moved to Chicago where she worked in the shop that her family had started. No longer a U.S. citizen, D’Aquino could not visit her husband in Japan because she would have been unable to return.

D’Aquino’s innocence was finally proven in the 1970s by the work of two journalists at the Chicago Tribune. In 1976, Ronald Yates, the Far East correspondent and Tokyo bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, interviewed Oki and Mitsushio, the two witnesses whose testimonies had helped convict D’Aquino. During the interview with Yates, both men admitted that they had been forced to provide false testimony and withhold vital information during D’Aquino's trial. The two men said that the FBI had harassed and threatened them and also said that other government witnesses were bribed by U.S. officials to provide damaging testimony. Oki and Mitsushio admitted that they had never heard D’Aquino make any treasonous broadcasts or statements, a complete turnaround from their testimony during the trial. A series of articles for the Tribune written by Yates was published in March 1976, following a previous series published in February of the same year by Linda Witt, which had questioned D’Aquino’s prosecution. Together, the two Tribune series made a strong case for D’Aquino’s innocence.

On January 19, 1977, without comment, President Gerald Ford pardoned D’Aquino on his last day in office, restoring her U.S. citizenship.

D’Aquino died of natural causes on September 26, 2006 in Chicago at the age of 90.

– Researched by Bridget McCarthy
State:CA - Federal
Most Serious Crime:Treason
Reported Crime Date:1943
Sentence:10 years, $10,000 fine, and revocation of U.S. citizenship
Age at the date of crime:27
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct