70-year search for lost love: War veteran finally reunites with Japanese sweetheart

Framed pictures of Duane Mann’s large family line the walls of his Iowa home. Among them is an image of Peggy Yamaguchi, the beautiful young woman he met in Japan while serving in the Korean War.

Clutching the photo, Mann, now 92, shares the story of how he was torn from Peggy 70 years ago when he was unexpectedly shipped home, which started his lifelong quest to find her again.

In June 1954, Duane Mann boarded the plane to return to the U.S., leaving behind his teary-eyed love, who was pregnant with his child.

Mann, 23 at the time, was an Iowa farm boy serving with the U.S. Navy, in charge of the military base aviation warehouse in Yokosuka, Japan.

In his off time, he fixed slot machines at the Air Force NCO club, the place he met the love of his life, the beautiful, young Peggy Yamaguchi, the club’s hat check girl. The pair spent their nights dancing, falling in love and making plans for their future, which included marriage and raising a family.

For those that have been following my Dad’s post and quest to find his first love (Peggy Yamaguchi)….we found her!!!…

Posted by Brian Mann on Thursday, May 19, 2022

Recalling the memories they shared in their 14 months together, Mann tried to hold back his tears when speaking with his local station KETV NewsWatch 7.

“I really loved to dance and she and I found out we could really dance together, I mean to where people would watch us,” said the Korean War Navy veteran. “And gradually we fell in love, we couldn’t stop it.”

Mann remembers every moment from his time with Peggy and details the events from the day he captured her image with the new camera he bought at the PX, an army installation that sells products to army personnel.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful day and we had been out walking around all the cherry blossoms and everything,” Mann said.

The pair thought they still had three months together, to marry then move the new bride to the U.S., but their plans were thwarted when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower unexpectedly pulled Navy personnel from Japan, and Duane received orders to return home. One week later, he had to leave Peggy behind.

“We didn’t have any time to get married, we were just trapped,” Mann said in the interview.

On his Facebook page, in a message that was recently deleted, Mann wrote, “When I boarded a plane, I left a very unhappy girl shedding many tears, also pregnant. I reassured her not to worry as I had saved more than enough money to send for her as soon as I could.”

Mann said he can’t get that day out of his mind.

When he returned home, he planned to immediately pull his savings and use them to cover the expenses of bringing Peggy to live with him in the U.S. so they could raise their child together.

But when he returned home to Iowa, he learned that his father, who had access to his bank account, had run into some hard times and depleted his savings.

Looking for solutions, Mann took a job building highways through the Midwest and in a letter to Peggy, he promised he would get the money to see their plans through.

In the meantime, the two lovers shared letters, Mann saying he would get one letter from her every week.

But then, Peggy’s letters stopped. Three months later, he received on final letter, filled with words that broke his heart.

“In that letter, she told me she married an Air Force man and that she had lost the baby and that was just dead for me. I was pretty well devastated,” he said to KETV.

Later, he learned that Peggy had still been writing but his mother, determined to end their relationship, took the letters before he saw them and burned them.

“She didn’t want me to marry a Japanese girl. She wanted me to marry a girl from the church,” Mann said.

Having to let go of his first love was not easy but Mann had to move on.

But he never really let go, nor did he forgive himself for abandoning her.

Carrying the guilt of abandoning her and the grief of losing the love of his life, Mann spent 70 years looking for the opportunity to explain what happened.

In 2022, hoping social media would do what it does best, Mann posted on Facebook the photo of Peggy, along with their story.

“So, I have spent the last 70 years trying to find Peggy because the most haunting thing of all is that she must have figured that I (abandoned) HER!!” Duane wrote. “I have never been able to shed this thought and have lived now to the age of 91 and carry a very heavy heart because of what all happened.”

He didn’t have to wait long.

First his post captured the attention of KETV 7 News, and after broadcasting the interview with Mann, Theresa Wong, a Canadian researcher for the History Channel, was inspired to help and started digging up leads.

Wong found an article from 1956, “Tokyo Bride likes life in Escanaba,” about a pretty Japanese bride of eight months, Mrs. Ronald Sedenquist (Ayoko “Peggy” Yamaguchi), whom with her newly discharged armed forces husband, had moved to the Michigan community one week before.

Her new name was the one piece of information that Mann had been missing.

Wong shared her findings with KETV, that found Peggy, 91, still living with her husband in Escanaba, in the same community she raised her three kids.

For 66 years, Peggy had been right across the Mississippi River, only hours away from where Mann was living with his wife and children.  

The couple finally reunited and KETV recorded every second.

“Peggy,” he said, his voice breaking when he first saw her.

Peggy stood and the pair embraced, immediately reminiscing.

“Do you remember the dancing?” Peggy asked. “The jitterbug.”

After seven decades apart it was like no time had passed.

The pair shared some hugs and a few kisses on the cheeks.

“I was worried that you thought I abandoned you and I’m here to tell you that I did not abandon you at all, I just couldn’t find you” Mann said, pulling from his wallet, a black and white photo of Peggy. “You gave me that photo.”

He’s carried her with him all this time.

“Thank you for remembering and [saving] all the pictures, you must have loved me,” Peggy replied.

And Peggy certainly loved him, too. Her son, Mike Sedenquist revealed his namesake, “D-U-A-N-E,” he said of his middle name. “Now it just came to light how I really got that name, and it wasn’t by happenstance.”

Duane Mann and Peggy Yamaguchi are testament that true love never dies. We are so happy that Duane finally found Peggy and got the resolve he needed. Is there someone in your past whom you loved and lost? What would you do to find them?