The Sad Saga of Norman Reyes

Lt. Norman Reyes and Major Charles Cousens, prisoners of war

Lt. Norman Reyes and Major Charles Cousens, prisoners of war

Of all the mestizos who lived in Manila before the Pacific War, Norman Reyes was probably one of the most conflicted. Born to a Filipino father and an American woman of Estonian descent, Reyes considered himself neither wholly American nor wholly Filipino, yet his biracial persona emerged in his role as a propaganda operative in the psychological warfare waged between the United States and Imperial Japan. Norman Reyes worked for both sides.

In his memoir A Child of Two Worlds - An Autobiography of a Filipino-American or Vice Versa, Reyes writes about the dichotomy of simultaneously having two cultures: “My life has been enriched by the lessons and burdens of having two simultaneous cultures: And I enjoy the wisdom of sometimes looking at my Asian self through my Western eyes and my Western self through my Asian eyes. There are times when a bicultural person is not totally at home in either of the two cultures involved, and that is the lonely aspect of the immigrant experience.”

Reyes lived with his parents in the modest San Juan suburb of Manila among other Fil-American families. Their lifestyle was predominantly Filipino, participating in local fiestas and even adopting the local custom of eating with bare hands. Early in life Reyes had learned the trick of forming a rice ball on his plate, lifting it up and rolling it into his mouth with his thumb.

In the book Reyes chronicles his struggles with the relationship between ethnic identity and social space. Those of us who knew him as an upperclassman in the American school H. A. Bordner looked up to his American personality. My brother Kay Ng wrote:

"When war broke out, classes were suspended, and Norman worked full time on Station KZRH until the closing days of December, when the Japanese were closing in on Manila. But Norman always gave us reports of the Japanese landing on Lingayen. His newscasts were straightforward, we were not prepared to repulse landings; the Japanese just walked up to the beaches and kept penetrating up to the national highway. Norman would report daily, always admitting that we fell back. Occasionally he would say, we have no reports today, no news. And no news was good news. It certainly was better news than retreats."

Reyes concludes his book with the surrender of the island fortress of Corregidor and his capture and imprisonment. Unfortunately, he omits his subsequent radio work in Tokyo for the Japanese side during the war.

Another schoolmate John Montesa said, "I don't know if you know about the aftermath of the war as it relates to the fortunes of Norman Reyes. He was arrested in the United States or perhaps in Japan and held in detention in West Virginia. If I remember accurately it was in White Sulphur Springs in that state -- the same locale where one of the many Tokyo Roses was held. He was held there on charges of 'collaboration with the enemy' while in Tokyo during the war."

Drafted into the Philippine Army as a third lieutenant and evacuated to Corregidor as a broadcaster, it was the Filipino side of Norman Reyes that radiated over the Voice of Freedom. Reyes is best remembered for the message "Bataan Has Fallen" that he voiced on April 9, 1942. Those of us in occupied Manila who secretly listened were moved to tears by the stirring words of his broadcast:

"Good evening, everyone everywhere. This is the Voice of Freedom broadcasting to you from somewhere in the Philippines.

"Bataan has fallen. The Philippine-American troops on this war-ravaged and bloodstained peninsula have laid down their arms. With heads bloody but unbowed, they have yielded to the superior force and numbers of the enemy...

"Besieged on land and blockaded by sea, cut off from all sources of help in the Philippines and in America, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear.

"For what sustained them through all these months of incessant battle was a force that was more than merely physical. It was the force of an unconquerable faith—something in the heart and soul that physical hardship and adversity could not destroy! It was the thought of native land and all that it holds most dear, the thought of freedom and dignity and pride in these most priceless of all our human prerogatives...

"Bataan has fallen, but the spirit that made it stand—a beacon to all the liberty-loving peoples of the world—cannot fall!"

The Voice of Freedom was a makeshift radio station that was set up in one of the tunnels of Corregidor. Former Radio KZRH technicians Wallace "Ted" Ince and Simeon Cheng stripped components of their station, now silenced along with all Manila stations whose transmitters were destroyed on orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Commander of the USAFFE (United States Army Forces of the Far East). The stated objective of the Voice of Freedom was to “propagate favorable news for the Allies and create anti-Japanese feelings and propaganda until such time as the American forces shall liberate us." It first went on the air on January 2, 1942, the same day that Gen. Masaharu Homma's 14th Imperial Japanese Army entered Manila. 

In the desperate days of the Bataan retreat, Norman Reyes was the lone voice on radio that conveyed to us hopeful news. He told of how an American pilot, Capt. Colin Kelly was able to sink a Japanese battleship off northern Luzon (not true), and the bravery of Capt. Jesus Villamor who shot down two Japanese planes in his antiquated Boeing fighter (true). Best of all, he said there was a "mile-long convoy" of US ships en route to Manila with arms, food and supplies, escorted by the powerful US Navy. None of us knew then that the American battle fleet was lying smashed on the muddy bottom of Pearl Harbor, sunk by Japanese attackers.

There was actually a substantial American convoy of eight ships escorted by the heavy cruiser USS Pensacola in transit to Manila. It had departed Pearl Harbor on November 29, 1941, but on December 9 it was ordered to divert to Brisbane, Australia, via Suva in the Fiji Islands. There was no hope its precious cargo of aviation fuel, oil, ammunition, crated new warplanes, 75 mm. howitzers and embarked US troops could be unloaded in Manila or Sangley Point or Subic, as these bases were being pounded daily by Japanese bombers.

The gallant Voice of Freedom fell silent permanently with the fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942. Lt. Norman Reyes was captured along with the 11,500 men and women of the Corregidor garrison. But his life as a prisoner of war was to be vastly different from the others. After several months in prison, Reyes was shipped to Japan.

Even before the onset of hostilities, Japan had dabbled in psychological warfare for her political as well as economic aspirations. Using the idea of "Asia for the Asians," Japan launched the new order of a "Co-prosperity Sphere" in which Asian peoples would cast off Western imperialism and co-exist in shared prosperity under the aegis of Dai Nippon. This propaganda did not gain much traction, however.

Later in the war Japan was more successful with another project, aimed at eroding the morale of enemy soldiers through the technique of radio broadcasts, using shortwave transmitters of their high-powered network, NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai) which operated Radio Tokyo.

The plan called for an English program using American voices, selected hometown USA news and familiar American music. It would feature brief messages to home from captured US troops. Filled with subtle Japanese propaganda, the program would be called The Zero Hour, in honor of Japan's most versatile fighter plane, the Mitsubishi Zero. The program format is mostly credited to Major Shigetsugu Tsineitsi, an Army representative in Tokyo's Section 8 G2 (Psychological Warfare) Unit.

To gather the news from the US, the NHK would monitor, transcribe and edit news from local radio stations which American troops in the Pacific would not be likely to hear from their military sources. This would be news about shipping losses, local disasters, accidents, fires and hometown weddings. The objective was to reinforce the innuendo that girlfriends back home were dating and marrying other men. It was a psychological war of ideas of ideas with the ultimate goal of conquering the enemy's mind.

Unfortunately, Reyes’ autobiography omits his subsequent radio work in Tokyo for the Japanese side during the war.

Major Tsineitsi issued an order for all Allied POWs in Japan and Asia to be screened for prisoners who had radio broadcasting experience. A likely candidate was soon found in the person of Major Charles Hugh Cousens, an Englishman who had been captured with units of the Australian Army in Singapore. In peacetime he had been a star announcer with Radio 2GB in Sydney.

Cousens was shipped to Tokyo and interviewed by Tsuneitsi. He was then invited to cooperate in setting up a broadcasting service to American soldiers. When he refused, he was harshly given the choice between working for NHK or death, which probably made the decision to cooperate a relatively easy one.

Within a month, Cousens was joined by two other POWs. These were Capt. Wallace "Ted" Ince, US Army, and Lt. Norman Reyes, Philippine Army. Both were 20 years old. Given the same life or death threat as Cousens, both were compelled to cooperate. So in late 1943 the Zero Hour was launched over Radio Tokyo. It gradually gained much popularity with its target audience of homesick American GIs in the Pacific.

It was then that the lives of the three POWs and Iva Toguri intersected. Toguri was a 25-year- old American Nisei (second generation of Japanese descent) who was stranded in Tokyo by the war. She had been visiting a sick aunt when hostilities broke out. It was a really bad case of being in the "wrong place at the wrong time." Toguri had run out of funds, but luckily found a job as an English typist for NHK Radio Tokyo.

Iva Toguri, convicted of treason and jailed in the U.S.

Iva Toguri, convicted of treason and jailed in the U.S.

Delighted to find herself among fellow Americans, Toguri made every effort to befriend them, even smuggling food, medicines, cigarettes, soap and other hard-to-get items for them. This was at great risk to herself, for the crime of helping an enemy POW was punishable by death. But gradually she overcame the suspicions of the trio and earned their trust.

It was Cousens who persuaded Toguri to join the Zero Hour program. She was assigned a 20- minute segment of music and chatter, the idea being to lighten the show with a friendly female voice that would attract the American GI audience. She called herself "Orphan Annie," which was a personal irony as an American civilian stranded in the enemy camp. At no time did she ever identify herself as "Tokyo Rose."

An example of Iva Toguri's tongue-in-cheek dialogue follows:

Hello there, enemies! How's tricks? This is Ann of Radio Tokyo, and we're just going to begin our regular program of music, news and the Zero Hour for our friends – I mean, our enemies! - in Australia and the South Pacific. So be on your guard, and mind the children don't hear! All set? OK. Here's the first blow to your morale – the Boston Pops playing “Strike Up The Band!” (UP MUSIC).

"Strike Up the Band" was the fight song of Toguri's alma mater UCLA, where she was a member of the Chi Alpha Delta Sorority and earning a degree in zoology.

As the program developed, the Japanese authorities realized that they had hit on the right formula and became more lenient. As Cousens was the senior officer among the POWs and the one with the most radio experience, the Japanese assured him that with his continued cooperation, the group would be given better living conditions. They eventually were housed in a good Tokyo hotel, given civilian clothes and better food. They were even allowed to walk around the city and visit geisha houses if they wished.

Norman Reyes was released from his POW status when the Japanese set up a puppet government in the Philippines in October 1943, calling it the Republic of the Philippines. All Filipino POWs were amnestied and set free. The following year Reyes was given permission to marry an announcer in Radio Tokyo named Kauro "Kathy" Moruka. He still continued his disk jockey work on the Zero Hour, despite increasing frequency and intensity of American air raids on Tokyo.

As the war progressed and US forces advanced closer to the Japanese homeland, propaganda on the Zero Hour became more strident. Absenteeism grew more frequent not only in NHK but other businesses as well. Civilians in Tokyo often skipped work to hunt for food, buying from the illegal black market hoarded items like rice, soy sauce, miso and sometimes meat and fish. Those who were caught in black market activities were jailed for one or two days.

Eventually Cousens stopped writing scripts, and other voices were heard on the program. The Zero Hour began to deteriorate, losing the wit and cheekiness of Cousens' original scripts. Toguri sometimes did not show up for weeks at a time as the US Air Force began the wholesale bombing of Tokyo and other cities.

At noon on August 15, 1945, the Japanese people were stunned to hear the voice of Emperor Hirohito announcing over NHK that he had accepted the provisions of the Potsdam Declaration unconditionally and ordered all Japanese Imperial forces to lay down their arms. World War II finally ended.

After the war the US government conducted a hunt to identify and capture the siren of the Pacific that GIs called "Tokyo Rose." In fact, there was no such individual, the name was a generic name that US servicemen gave to any female who spoke English and played popular music over Japanese radio stations. In all, there were about a dozen such Japanese announcers, but none of them ever identified herself as the mythical "Tokyo Rose."

But in June 1949, Iva Toguri was arrested and brought to the US and prosecuted for treason as the real "Tokyo Rose." She was convicted in a travesty of justice and sentenced to ten years in prison with a $10,000 fine. After serving 8-1/2 years in a women's prison in West Virginia, Toguri was freed by presidential pardon granted by President Gerald Ford in 1977 and all charges were dropped. She received no compensation for wrongful imprisonment and no refund of the $10,000 fine. 

Of the original Zero Hour crew, American Capt. Ted Ince was never charged, in fact he was promoted to Major. In Australia Major Charles Cousens was tried for treason in a sensational trial that divided the nation. Many people were convinced that being compelled to work in broadcasting by threat of death was no different to working as forced labor building a railroad for the enemy, as did the thousands of Australian and British POWs who suffered and died in the infamous River Kwai railroad project in Burma.

The case against Cousens was dropped, but he was given a dishonorable discharge and never received any back pay for his stint in the Australian Army.

Norman Reyes himself was tried in the US on suspicion of being a Japanese spy. Eventually he too, was cleared of all charges. He became an American citizen and migrated to Hawaii where he pursued an impressive career working for First Hawaiian Bank, Hawaii Corporation, the Dillingham Corporation and the State Department of Business and Economic Development. He also was a newscaster on island television and radio. It was during this time that he wrote his autobiography. In 1996 he retired and returned to the Philippines, passing away in his sleep in 1999.

Reyes' remains were cremated. Half of the ashes were scattered over Corregidor and the remainder interred in Hawaii. To the very end, Norman Reyes, the Voice of Freedom, was a child of two worlds.

"Bataan Has Fallen"

Seventy years ago today, American and Filipino forces were surrendered on the Bataan Peninsula. Tune your radio dials back to April 9, 1942 and listen to a rare recording of the shortwave radio broadcast of the surrender announcement, made by Lt. Norman Reyes on the "Voice of Freedom," the USAFFE radio station located on the island of Corregidor.

Posted by Escape from Davao on Monday, April 9, 2012

An excerpt of "Bataan Has Fallen," written By Capt. Salvador Lopez, broadcasted by Lt. Norman Reyes (Source: Escape from Davao page on

Larry Ng

Larry Ng

Larry Ng was Radio TV Director for Grant Advertising International when he was invited to join ABS CBN Sales, after which he migrated to Australia just prior to the imposition of martial law. Following the downfall of Marcos, Geny Lopez Jr. asked him to return to ABS-CBN as Director for TV News and Current Affairs, a position he held for five years before retiring.

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