Manila Myrtle

By Sgt. Ozzie St. George

YANK Staff Correspondent

MANILA—Myrtle, a kind of poor man’s Tokyo Rose, used to broadcast over Radio Manila between 1700 and 1800, East Asia Time, every afternoon. Myrtle’s Crosley rating of interested listeners probably wasn’t as high as that of the more famous Tokyo propaganda pretty, but her program, “Memory Lane,” was much the same as Rose’s—seven or eight Stateside recordings, vintage of 1941, and roughly four minutes of patter about “those crisp football afternoons back home…Jim and Ann in Jim’s new Ford…I understand Ann finally married George; she didn’t think Jim was ever coming home…”

Myrtle is off the air now. She was living quietly, as the screen magazines would say, with her mother and sister in a middle-class Manila suburb when we knocked at her door one afternoon recently. Somebody inside said, “Who is it?” Our guide, who used to work for Radio Manila under the Japanese occupation, said, “Freddie. You know me.” There was the noise of bolts and bars being undone and the door opened a couple of inches.  Freddie did some more talking and we got inside and met Myrtle.

radio manila

Manila Myrtle

Myrtle is 22, about five feet four, an American mestiza (halfbreed) with dark brown eyes, black hair and the kind of complexion generally described as golden brown. She has starlet’s legs to go with all the rest of it.

When we questioned her, Myrtle said yes, she smoked and drank—did we have anything with us? Her voice and her expressions were American with just a trace of accent.

She had gone to high school and to a girls’ college in Manila and then spent a year in Shanghai before the war, just “seeing the town.” She wasn’t doing anything—and she wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a Joan of Arc type—when, in March 1944, the Japanese decided to beam propaganda to the Southwest Pacific from Manila. Some friends who worked for Radio Manila on local shows told Myrtle the Japanese were looking for American voices. In fact, the friends themselves were Japanese. Myrtle wasn’t choosey.

Myrtle visited the station, got an audition and a job. “But I’m not pro-Jap,” she insisted to us. “I’m not pro-American either. I’m pro-Filipino.”

Myrtle’s boss at the station was a Japanese man named Omhura, a civilian Department of Information employee and not, said Myrtle, “such a bad old guy”. The rumor around Manila, where Myrtle was well known and on her way to becoming better than well known—or notorious—had it that Omhura didn’t think Myrtle was so bad either.

An American-born Japanese, Buddy Uno, wrote Myrtle’s scripts, full of malarkey about “the good old days and moonlight nights of Central Park with Betty who later married a 4-F who worked at Du Pont…”

“Melody Lane” ran 30 minutes originally and was beamed on two bands to New Guinea. Myrtle didn’t want to use her own name on the air, so in the original script she was “Mary.” But that was Myrtle’s first time on the air and signing off she forgot herself and said “Myrtle.”

Omhura clapped his hands over that. He said it made the program seem so personal. So Myrtle was Myrtle from there on in. She was paid 230 Japanese pesos per month cash and the rest of her salary in rations—rice, fish, soap, matches, sugar and so on.

“We worked for the rations,” Myrtle told us. “With my salary, every month, I bought a pack of American cigarettes.” Myrtle didn’t say so, but, since the black-market price of American cigarettes during the occupation ran from 800 to 1,000 pesos, she may have had to do a little outside work for her monthly pack.

Omhura suggested, now and then, that Myrtle listen to Tokyo Rose and model her program accordingly. Rose’s technique, he said “so appealed to the Americans.”

“But my program was not a propaganda broadcast,” Myrtle said. “It was just entertainment—just something to remind the fellows in New Guinea about the places back home.” It’s anybody’s guess whether Myrtle believed this balderdash.

Anyway, she was on the air and as of the moment she first stepped before a Radio Manila microphone, she was caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. She was “pro-Jap” to loyal Filipinos and simply another far-from-trusted employee of the Japanese. The Kempitai—the Japanese Gestapo—investigated, trailed and questioned her regularly. Five to six each afternoon Myrtle purred to the boys in the Southwest Pacific, but she was never left alone in the studio. “There were always Japs around,” she told us, “civilians, but they all carried guns and swords.” Myrtle got pushed around a little once when she suggested somebody slice rice cakes with his sacred Samurai. She thought about quitting a couple of times, too, but the Japanese politely reminded her that that would lead to nobody’s murder but her own. And, some say, the last neck in the world Myrtle might have risked was her own.

When Radio Manila was last convinced of the success of the Leyte landings (Myrtle thought we’d stormed those beaches and stayed ashore on October 28, eight days after we actually did), the station dropped Myrtle’s continuity and switched to an hour program of alleged news and recordings. Myrtle became “Margie,” the girl who changed the records and ad libbed titles on the program. Certain records were taboo. “He’s My Uncle,” for one, of course, and an innocent little ditty entitled “Mary Dear” in which a GI comes home to a wench who didn’t marry a war worker after all, was another one.

Myrtle, at first, could select her own records. Then, one day, she went overboard on college songs, “Fight on for Old Notre Dame” among them. Radio Manila got a snide note from Tokyo about that. Seems Tokyo adjudged such songs would raise the fighting spirit of the Americans then fighting on Leyte—and they wanted no part of that.  Omhura was fired and exiled to Java over the incident, and another American-born Japanese, Ken Murayama, took over. Coincidentally, Ken became a quite a friend of Myrtle’s.

When the Lingayen landings happened, Radio Manila’s Crosley took another dive. On the Thursday before the lead elements of the 1st Cavalry Division entered the city, Myrtle quit and got away with it. One of her friends incidentally, still working a local show at 2100 of the evening the 1st Cavalry smashed into Santo Tomas, closed his program with “The Stars and Stripes Forever”—and got away with it too.

Myrtle had always wondered whether or not the boys in the Southwest Pacific listened to her program. Her fan mail obviously was limited. When we told her yes, we had heard “Melody Lane,” she said, “Oh, I’m so glad. Did you like it?”

And that might be the end of Myrtle’s story, but we revisited her home the following afternoon to get some more pictures. Again there was some trouble with the door, then Myrtle’s mother peered out. Myrtle’s sister appeared behind her. They were crying. Myrtle, they explained, was gone. Just gone, period. They’d been out the evening before. When they came home—no Myrtle.

Freddie, still with us, gurgled a couple of times and that afternoon he turned himself in to the local authorities.

For More Reading Check Out:

The Tokyo Rose Case: Treason on Trial

For Related Articles See:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Past and Present WWII History Posts