Veteran Reunites With Japanese Love 70 Years After He Lost Her

A 91-year-old Korean War veteran has finally tracked down the woman he fell in love with almost 70 years ago, while he was stationed in Japan.

Duane Mann has been torn up by grief and guilt for decades after fearing Peggy Yamaguchi believed he had callously abandoned her while she was pregnant with his child after he was shipped back to the U.S.

The pair enjoyed an emotional reunion in Michigan this week after Mann launched a global media hunt to find his lost love, with help from his local TV station KETV Newswatch 7.

The station's reporter, a historian, and the pair's grown-up children, all helped set up the meeting.

Old couple holds hands
Duane Mann was reunited with his long lost love Peggy Yamaguchi this week. Pictured: An elderly couple hold hands. Getty Images

What Happened in the Past

The couple's relationship began in 1954 when Mann met Yamaguchi while his unit was based in the Japanese city of Yokosuka.

When Mann, who grew up on a farm in Woodbine, Iowa, got his orders from the Navy to ship out, the 22-year-old made Yamaguchi a vow that he would send for her so they could marry and bring up their child together.

But Mann says that when he returned home, he discovered his father had spent all of Mann's own savings, and Yamaguchi did not write to him.

In fact, he later learned that his mother had burned the letters because she did not want her son to marry a Japanese woman. But he did eventually receive one letter from Yamaguchi—telling him she had lost their baby and married another man.

Mann said: "It was over. That set in the idea that I abandoned her. [It] just wore me out. That's not an honorable thing to do."

In the first piece that KETV aired, about his search for Yamaguchi, he wept as Mann said the couple had enjoyed 14 months of courtship after they met at a dance club, where Peggy worked as a hat check girl.

Mann said: "I really loved to dance and she and I found out we could really dance together, I mean, to where people would watch us. And gradually we fell in love, we couldn't stop it."

But his sudden orders to leave the country shocked the couple.

"We didn't have any time to get married," Mann said, "we were just trapped. I reassured her, 'Don't be afraid, when I get home I am just going to send for you.'" Mann wept as he said: "It began to haunt me more and more through the years... I left her standing there, pregnant."

He carried around the guilt for the rest of his life, and last year decided to try to find Yamaguchi to apologize and explain.

The Search

Last month, KETV Newswatch 7's report about Mann's search was broadcast and went on to be shared globally. The Japanese media ran stories about the mystery woman, and viewers from around the world got in touch to say they thought they may have found her.

A Canadian researcher for the History Channel, 23-year-old Theresa Wong, was so moved by the story, she conducted her own research, and found a 1956 article called "Tokyo bride likes life in Escanaba" about a new Japanese resident living in the Michigan town.

That old article in the local newspaper, The Daily Press, finally provided a lead.

Incredibly, Yamaguchi, who is also now 91, had moved to the U.S. with her new husband and for decades has lived just a few states away across the Mississippi River from Mann at her home in Escanaba, where she raised three sons.

Her husband is still alive, and her grownup sons said they were moved by the story about a lost love from their mom's past.

After the tip-off from the historian, reporter Michelle Bandur contacted Yamaguchi's son, Rich Sedenquist, who played his mother a video clip of the news story about Mann's global search for her. Sedenquist said: "She right away [said], 'I remember him! He really loved me, you know.'"

His brother, Mike Sedenquist, looked close to tears as he said of Duane Mann's quest: "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!"

And he revealed his own middle name is Duane, meaning he now realizes that he was named after his mother's first love.

The Reunion

The elderly pair finally met this week, and Mann cried "Peggy!" as he set eyes on his former partner. The couple embraced and, within minutes, they were reminiscing about the time they enjoyed together in Japan.

"Remember that dancing?" she asked, "Oh yeah!" Mann laughed. The conversation grew more serious as Mann explained what had happened in the past. Mann showed Yamaguchi his old photos of her, which he had kept in his wallet for almost 70 years.

Yamaguchi patted his back as he told her: "And I've thought about that all my life, I worried that you thought that I abandoned you. And I'm here to tell you that I didn't abandon you at all. I just couldn't find you."

She replied: "[You] saved all the pictures. You must have loved me."

"I did," he replied.

Yamaguchi insisted she hadn't felt abandoned, and Mann told her their reunion had "really been a freeing experience for me."

Newsweek has attempted to reach out to Mann and Yamaguchi (now Sedenquist).