WATCH: Korean vet reunites with first love after nearly 70 years of searching
ESCANABA, Mich. (KETV) – How many of us get the chance to fix something unresolved from our past?
Even at age 91, Duane Mann never lost hope he’d get that chance.
He’d been waiting for nearly 70 years for the moment he’d get to see his first love again.
Mann saw his first love, Peggy Yamaguchi, for the first time in 1954 when he was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan.
She was pregnant when Mann, a 22-year-old Iowa farm boy, got his orders; the Navy was sending him back to the states.
He left Yamaguchi behind with the promise that he’d send for her with plans for marriage.
However, when Mann returned home from the Korean War, he found his father had fallen on hard times and spent Mann’s savings.
Then, the letters that Yamaguchi sent him stopped coming. Or so Mann thought. He discovered later his mother had burned the letters.
“She didn’t want me to marry a Japanese girl,” Mann said.
One final letter arrived for Mann. Yamaguchi wrote that she had lost the baby and married someone else.
“It was over, it set in that idea that I abandoned her, just wore me out,” Mann said. “That’s not an honorable thing to do.”
Mann’s son, Brian, has supported his father’s lifelong quest to find his lost love so he could clear his conscience.
“I think it was a combination of guilt, confusion and sadness,” Brian Mann said. “We owe it to them to see if this is truly the Peggy that my dad is looking for.”
In early May, the story of Duane Mann’s long search, his universal story of heartbreak and hope, went around the world.
It was shared by Japanese media, and viewers and readers got in on the search and emailed and posted obituaries and photos, wondering if they had found Yamaguchi.
While Duane Mann was in Iowa searching for Yamaguchi, she wasn’t an ocean away in Japan. She was closer to him than he ever could have imagined. Only 650 miles, a few states and the Mississippi River kept them apart after all of those years.
Rich Sedenquist, Yamaguchi’s son, was eventually found, contacted and asked if she remembered Duane Mann.
“One way to find out,” he said.
So, he took his headphones over to his mother and played the video clip of Duane Mann from the news article.
“She, right away [said], ‘I remember him, he really loved me, you know,’” Sedenquist said.
Yamaguchi was alive and alert with her Navy husband she married in 1955. She was living in the same Michigan community where she raised her three sons.
“He’s able to fulfill his dream, his lifelong dream to find the woman that he met and fell in love with and, 70 years later, what a wonderful story,” Sedenquist said.
An article dated February 3, 1956 from the local Escanaba newspaper, The Daily Press, was the key in finding Yamaguchi. It was discovered by a woman in Vancouver, Canada, who saw Duane Mann’s story online.
Theresa Wong said she felt compelled to act when she saw it.
“I feel like it cut me right to my soul,” she said.
The 23-year-old is a researcher for the History Channel. She said she found the old newspaper article with the headline “Tokyo bride makes life in Escanaba.” That article provided a last name and an address to go on.
“I cannot imagine carrying around that heartbreak for 70 years,” Wong said. “I really hope this is just that opportunity to get closure and really like a release all those years of worrying about it.”
Back in the present, Duane Mann and Yamaguchi spontaneously started reminiscing about their special time in Japan.
“I was scared at first, I thought my mother and Duane wouldn’t talk like they did but when they started smiling and talking it was all worth it. it was all worth it for me,” Sedenquist said.
Brian Mann, Duane Mann’s son, agreed.
“It’s a great example, as my dad has always been, ‘Follow your heart, be a kind person’ and not be afraid to take a step other people won’t,” Brian Mann said. “It’s authentic to me.”
Duane Mann shared with Yamaguchi how he keeps her close with photos in his billfold wallet, keeping them there for nearly 70 years.
Duane Mann also left a strong impression on Yamaguchi. Sedenquist’s middle name is Duane.
“It just came to light how I really got that name, and it wasn’t by happenstance, it was for a reason I believe,” Sedenquist said.
It may take a lifetime, but when offered that moment, whether it be romance or resolve, if Duane Mann is asked, he would say to seize the moment and never give up to find peace.
“It’s really been a freeing experience for me,” he said.
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