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Veteran torn from first love during Korean War meets her again after 70 years, thanks to strangers

The pair spent hours reminiscing, during which Mann learned that Yamaguchi Sedenquist had named one of her sons after him.

Veteran torn from first love during Korean War meets her again after 70 years, thanks to strangers
Cover Image Source: Facebook | Brian Mann

Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 17, 2022. It has since been updated.

It was Peggy Yamaguchi's dance moves that first drew Duane Mann to her. Then, her smile and quick wit sealed the deal. The 22-year-old sailor from Iowa, stationed in Japan during the Korean War in 1953, had never met anyone like her and he couldn't help but fall head over heels in love for the first time in his life. "She was such a pretty girl, and so sensitive and kind," Mann, who is now 91, told The Washington Post. "We had so much fun." Mann and Yamaguchi's paths crossed at a military officers' club, where she worked in the hat check room, and he was hired as a mechanic and sergeant-at-arms in his off-hours.


Yamaguchi also used to take English lessons and helped translate conversations between service members and locals. One evening after work, the pair found themselves on the dance floor, dancing to the tunes of the live band at the club. "Peggy and I, we started to dance," said Mann, who managed an aviation supply warehouse in Yokosuka before transferring to an air base in Tokyo. "And my word, this girl could really dance." Soon, the duo became a daily sight on the dance floor, dancing to Elvis Presley and Tony Bennett until they were the only ones left at the club. 


"People would just stand and watch us," Mann recalled. "Holding her in my arms, I just kept falling deeper and deeper." However, their romance came to an abrupt halt about a year later when the Navy sent Mann back to the United States sooner than expected. "The Korean War was over, and the military was bloated, so to save money they started discharging people early," he explained. His departure couldn't have come at a worse time for the couple as the then-22-year-old Yamaguchi was pregnant with their child.


Still, determined to make it work, the pair came up with a plan: Mann would return to Iowa, collect the money he had saved up—which he put in his father's name in a bank account there, in case he was killed in the war—and bring Yamaguchi to America. "I wanted to marry her," Mann shared. Unfortunately, their big plans for the future came crashing down when he arrived in his hometown of Pisgah to find that his father had spent all of his savings. "Every bit of it," he said. "If I would have known that I didn't have any money, I would have never gone home."


The couple stayed in touch with each other through letters as Mann struggled to find a solution to their troubles. He decided to start from scratch, taking up a job at a highway construction company—the highest-paying position he could find. However, after a month of correspondence, Yamaguchi's letters suddenly stopped. Mann later found out that his mother, who did not approve of their relationship, had intercepted her letters and burned them all. "She didn't want me to marry a Japanese girl," Mann explained. The last he heard from Yamaguchi was when his sister snuck him a letter from her that arrived a few months later, informing him that she had lost their baby and married a member of the U.S. Air Force from Wisconsin.


"I was devastated," said Mann. For the next seven decades, he was overcome by a strong sense of guilt. "I was worried she thought I abandoned her," said Mann, who is widowed. Although he too moved forward in his life—starting a successful produce business, getting married twice and fathering six children, Yamaguchi never left his mind. Mann, who still keeps two photos of her tucked in his wallet, even attempted to track her down but always hit dead ends. "I wanted her to know that I wouldn’t abandon her," he said.


Mann decided to make one last attempt last month when he took to Facebook with a plea to track her down, sharing a photo he'd taken of her and their short-lived love story. As news of his search spread across the internet, it soon reached the ears of 23-year-old Theresa Wong from Vancouver who works at the History Channel. "I couldn't get it off my mind," she said. "Duane has clearly been looking for closure for seven decades. I can't imagine how that must weigh on a person... I had her name, [and] the names of her relatives. It all came together very quickly." Wong's search brought her to a promising article with the headline "Tokyo Bride Likes Life in Escanaba" which ultimately led the search to an address in Michigan.


Yamaguchi's son, Rich Sedenquist, was puzzled when a reporter reached out to him about his mother's whereabouts. However, when he showed his 91-year-old mother, Peggy Yamaguchi Sedenquist, old photos of Mann, she instantly remembered the sailor from her youth. Although Yamaguchi Sedenquist had mostly suppressed memories of Mann, upon seeing photos of her "nice-looking, tall, and very honest" then-boyfriend, she said the dancing felt like yesterday. She was "very surprised" when she learned Mann was searching for her, Yamaguchi Sedenquist said from her home in Escanaba, where she raised her three sons and still lives with the husband she married in 1955.


Contrary to what the veteran feared, Yamaguchi Sedenquist did not harbor any resentment, she said. Although "it was hard" when he left Japan, she recalled, given that he was a military man, "when he had to go, he had to go." Upon finding out that his first love was still alive, Mann was determined to meet her once again. Although he was filled with anxious anticipation during his trip to Michigan for the June 1 meeting, his worries subsided the moment he saw Yamaguchi Sedenquist. "She got up and gave me a hug, and I got a lot of kisses on the cheek," Mann said.


The pair spent hours reminiscing, during which Mann learned that Yamaguchi Sedenquist had named one of her sons after him. Her eldest child, Mike, was given the middle name Duane.

"That was really a thrill," said Mann. "It was a special experience," Yamaguchi Sedenquist said of their meeting, adding that she assured Mann that she never felt abandoned by him. Their families also met each other and instantly got along. "I just hope I can hang on for another year or two and get to know them better," Mann shared. "I'm at peace with it now," he added. "I would love to dance with her again, just one more time."


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