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

They say you never forget your first love, and for Duane Mann, a Korean War veteran from Woodbine, Iowa, this is definitely true.

It all started in Japan in 1953. Duane, 22 at the time, was one of seven Navy personnel stationed at the Tokyo Haneda International Airport. Assigned to handle priority navy cargo, he also worked as a slot machine repairman at the Air Force Non-Commissioned Officers Club during his spare time.

It was at the Club where he met the love of his life, Peggy Yamaguchi.

Peggy worked there as a hat check girl and the two enjoyed dancing together on their time off. It didn’t take long before they fell in love and planned to get married. But sadly, it wasn’t meant to be.

In June 1954, Duane received notice that he was being shipped back to the States. One week later, he was gone. And Peggy was left behind, pregnant.

“When I boarded a plane, I left a very unhappy girl shedding many tears, also pregnant,” Duane wrote in a Facebook post. “I reassured her not to worry as I had saved more than enough money to send for her as soon as I could.”

A Soldier Gets His Marching Orders

Japanese woman
Peggy Yamaguchi | Facebook

Duane returned to his home state of Iowa determined to send for Peggy and his unborn child as soon as possible. Unfortunately, during his time fighting overseas, his father, who had access to Duane’s bank account, spent all of his son’s savings.

Duane wrote to Peggy and promised he would make up the money. He got a job with a highway construction company, working across Iowa and its surrounding states.

The two lovers continued to write to each other and Duane would get Peggy’s letters every time he returned home to his parents. Until one day, the letters stopped. Duane was heartbroken.

Three months later, Duane’s youngest sister handed him a final letter from Peggy.

“In the letter, Peggy informed me that she had married an airforce man and that she had lost the baby,” Duane wrote on Facebook. “That is when I found out that my mother had been burning all of Peggy’s letters because she didn’t want me to marry a Japanese girl.”

Although devastated and “completely destroyed,” Duane never confronted his mother for sabotaging his first love.

A Search 70 Years in the Making

Eventually, Duane went on to marry and have children.

But he never forgot Peggy and he never forgave himself for what happened. He worried that she thought he abandoned her and wanted desperately to explain the truth.

For seven decades, Duane carried his guilt and grief over Peggy.

At the age of 91, with the help of his son, Brian, he made one last ditch effort to find her. He turned to the power of social media, posting an old photograph of Peggy on Facebook.

“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 ABANDED [sic] 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.”

Hoping that someone would recognize her name and photo, all Duane could do now was wait.

He didn’t have to wait long. A week later, and after a lifetime of searching, his lost love was finally found.

A Long Lost Love Is Finally Found

Duane’s Facebook post caught the attention of Theresa Wong, a Canadian researcher for the History Channel. Moved by the tragic love story, she decided to do a bit of research.

She discovered a 1956 article titled, “Tokyo Bride likes life in Escanaba” about a new Japanese resident living in the Michigan town.

It was the needle in the haystack. Wong passed on the lead to KETV 7 News, who had first run the story. They followed it straight to Peggy.

Turns out, Peggy, 91, moved to the U.S. with her new husband shortly after they married. For decades they have lived just a few states away from Mann, raising three sons together, one of whom has the middle name, Duane.

The Long Awaited Reunion

After 70 years, Duane’s and Peggy’s love story finally came full circle. Accompanied by his son, Brian, Duane traveled to Michigan to reunite with his first love.

Their reunion was understandably an emotional one and Duane was finally able to let go of decades of heartache.

After reminiscing about their time together, he told Peggy, “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.”

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

“I did,” he said.

Duane and Peggy’s love story is a testament to the power of first love, but it’s also a testament to the power of forgiveness; including when it comes to forgiving yourself.

The entire time Duane spent looking for redemption, Peggy says he already had it, telling him that she never felt abandoned by him. They were the words he’d waited a lifetime to hear.

“It’s really been a freeing moment for me,” Duane shared.