Yesterday saw the passing of an iconic figure from WW II: Louis Zamperini. 97 years old. Lauren Hillenbrand wrote a painful, but wonderful tribute to this man’s courage, not under fire, but under many of life’s obstacles. Growing up in an Italian family, barely speaking English and somehow, through the love of an older brother, channeling his running from the law as a teenager, to running track. And then, his tale of surviving one of the most sadistic enemy soldiers in the war. How ironic that he died one day shy of July Fourth It would have been iconic.
What is remarkable about life’s ironies, after sending birthday wishes today, July Fourth, to a young German boy I met fifteen years ago, I was reminded that today is also the birthday of a Japanese American woman who died a few years ago and one whose passing barely left a ripple. Iva Toguri, also known as “Tokyo Rose” was born in Los Angeles California, July 4, 1916.
Iva was a recent graduate of UCLA, leaning toward becoming a doctor when she was, as a graduation gift, sent to Japan -also to take care of a sick aunt. That was July 1941. The bombing of Pearl Harbor left her stranded and choosing not to embrace Emperor Hirohito, her aunt and uncle kicked her out onto the street. The long story of survival ended with her broadcasting US scripted essays for Radio Tokyo’s “Zero Hour” ironically much to the delight of the US troops. Iva never considered renouncing her citizenship. She was an American through and through.
The war ended but not for Iva. Six years in prison on trumped-up charges forever changed her life. The country she grew up in, the country she loved, because of her race, cast her aside. In 1976 President Gerald Ford pardoned her. Iva died in 2006, having spent the rest of her life living quietly in Chicago, working for her father’s import business. Now even “Toguri’s” no longer exists.
So today, amidst the parades and fireworks, cookouts and family gatherings, give thought to those who served our country well first and foremost. But please remember those whose loved this country as much as the troops who fought for it. Happy birthday Iva.