Was he “either a coward or a great seaman,” victim of a ruse concocted by Admiral William F. Halsey’s “Department of Dirty Tricks,” or the fall guy for a war strategy doomed from the start? Or did he simply want to save the lives of his sailors? One of Newsweek’s top journalists reports from Japan on what possessed Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita to turn away from the fighting at Leyte Gulf on the morning of 25 October 1944—60 years ago.
During the course of a three-hour interview at his small house in the southern Japanese city of Hakata, Hiroshi Yasunaga, an 83-year-old veteran of the Imperial Japanese Navy, spoke English only once. I asked him what he thought of Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita, his fleet commander in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. “I hate him!” exclaimed Yasunaga. “He was a coward!”