Korean War veteran searching for love he lost 70 years ago in Japan
OMAHA, Neb. (KETV) – It’s a question we all ask at least once in our lifetime – what if you made a different decision or chose the other path?
Korean War veteran Duane Mann, 91, has had a great life but has one thing that stuck with him that he just can’t shake from his heart.
He fell in love with a woman when he was 23 years old, serving overseas in Yokosuka, Japan. Now, he can’t stop thinking about a choice he made in 1954.
The airman second class petty officer, who oversaw the military base aviation warehouse, spent his free time moonlighting at the Air Force NCO Club, fixing the slot machines.
That’s where Mann met Peggy, who worked as the hat check girl at the time.
“I really loved to dance,” Mann said. “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.”
After 14 months of courtship, they had three months to plan their wedding before his Navy discharge.
Suddenly, though, President Dwight Eisenhower pulled all Navy personnel from Japan. Mann received papers he was going to be shipped back to the U.S. in one week.
“We didn’t have any time to get married,” Mann explained. “We were just trapped.”
Mann said he reassured Peggy that he would send for her, thinking he had enough savings at home. But when he returned to the states, he learned his father ran into tough times and spent it all.
Mann quickly found a good-paying job building highways throughout the Midwest so he could bring his love to America.
“I corresponded with her. I would get a letter a week,” Mann said.
After some time, Peggy’s letters stopped arriving in the mail and three months later, he received one final letter.
“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,” Mann said. “I was pretty well devastated.”
He later learned Peggy was still writing to him, but his mother had intercepted the letters and burned them.
“She didn’t want me to marry a Japanese girl. She wanted me to marry a girl from the church,” Mann explained.
Mann thought his first love was over, so he moved on. He had two marriages – one lasting 17 years, the other 47.
He has six children, 18 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.
Even with all his happiness, Mann has never forgotten about Peggy.
“It began to haunt me more and more through the years. I left her standing there pregnant,” Mann said.
He shared the story of his search for Peggy on Facebook, with the blessing of his children. He hopes someone will recognize Peggy from the photograph he took in Japan.
The only clues he has is that she would be in her late 80s or early 90s and that she said she married a man in the Air Force from Wisconsin.
“The big thing that really makes it hard is that she thinks I abandoned her, and I just can’t get that out of my soul,” Mann said.
Mann hopes he can make things right.
“I would say, ‘I come to see you late in life. There’s one thing I want you to know – that I did not abandon you,’” Mann said if his path leads him back to Peggy after 70 years.
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