Drama of Two American Women Charged With Wartime Treason
WASHINGTON — ON a sparse stage, characters portraying Iva Toguri D'Aquino and Mildred Gillars stand together, forlorn and lonely. Charged with treasonous acts against the United States during World War II, both women deny the charge.
At this production of ``Two Sirens Return: The Treason Trials of Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally,'' written and directed by Kay Kuhlmann for the National Archives, a troubling and little-remembered footnote in the history of World War II is revisited.
D'Aquino, a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, was charged with being ``Tokyo Rose,'' the woman with the ``gin foggy'' voice who played popular songs on Radio Tokyo and aimed them at American soldiers in the South Pacific. Gillars was tried as ``Axis Sally,'' the American woman who broadcast anti-American statements on radio from Germany.
The play - presented for only four performances at a small theater at the National Archives and Records Administration two weeks ago - is not a full, dramatic rendering of two star-crossed lives, but more of a quick, accurate profile of each woman pieced together with facts, interviews, FBI documents, and excerpts from their separate trials.
Neither woman knew the other, but because both were found guilty at separate trials, they are linked together.
After a prison term of seven years following the war, D'Aquino has lived quietly in a Midwestern city. Gillars, imprisoned for 12 years, passed away in 1988 near Columbus, Ohio.
In the play, as in real life, D'Aquino is shy and unsophisticated. Gillars is brassy, a college-trained would-be actress who failed in the US and saw her chance to ``star'' under Nazi encouragement.
Of the two, D'Aquino's story is more complex, and in fact the consensus today is that she was the victim of government complicity in suppression of evidence. In 1977, after a concerted effort by Japanese-American groups, D'Aquino was pardoned by President Ford.
Just before Pearl Harbor, D'Aquino was sent by her father, a Los Angeles grocer, to Japan to visit an ailing relative. Born and raised in Los Angeles, D'Aquino did not speak Japanese and was thoroughly American.
D`Aquino had only a certificate of identification, not a passport. After Pearl Harbor she was unable to leave Japan as both sides in the war viewed her with suspicion. She was adamantly pro-American. Ultimately rejected by her relatives and hounded by the Japanese secret police, she was virtually alone as the war went on.
To survive, she became a typist at Radio Tokyo. When an Australian prisoner of war, forced to work in radio, heard D'Aquino's husky voice, he persuaded her to read statements between records.
Later he testified at her trial that he wanted to ``burlesque'' Japanese propaganda with double meanings. Neither D'Aquino, nor any of the other dozen or so women who read the radio patter, was ever identified as Tokyo Rose on the air. The name was created by soldiers in the South Pacific.
All this is presented in the play in short bursts of dialogue on a virtually bare stage with a white-robed woman depicting justice who wanders about asking questions of D'Aquino and Gillars. Emiko Tamagawa portrays D'Aquino with bewildered understatement; Kuhlmann portrays Gillars with a loud scrappiness.
Gillars actually toured GI prison camps and signed autographs at one point. A model prisoner, she at first turned down a parole, but later taught music and French at a convent high school that had invited her to live there.
D'Aquino was convicted on one count of treason for having spoken the words, ``Orphans of the Pacific ... how will you get home now that your ships are sunk?'' She was sentenced to 10 years and fined $10,000.
After Ford granted a pardon and restored her citizenship, she said, ``I have always maintained my innocence.''