OMAHA, Neb. (KETV) – It’s a question we all ask ourselves at least once in our lives – what if you made a different decision or went the other way?
Korean War veteran Duane Mann, 91, has had a great life, but he has one thing he cares about that he just can’t get rid of.
He fell in love with a woman at the age of 23, while serving overseas in Yokosuka, Japan. Now he can’t help but think of a choice he made in 1954.
The airman’s second-class petty officer, who oversaw the base’s aviation warehouse, spent his free time moonlighting at the Air Force NCO Club, fixing slot machines.
It was there that Mann met Peggy, who at the time was working as a head of hat control.
“I really loved dancing,” Mann said. “She and I discovered that we could really dance together – I mean where people looked at us – and little by little we fell in love. We couldn’t stop it.
After 14 months of dating, they had three months to plan their wedding before he was discharged into the Navy.
Suddenly, however, President Dwight Eisenhower dismissed all naval personnel from Japan. Mann received papers that he would be deported to the United States within a week.
“We didn’t have 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 United States, he learned that his father had gone through hard times and had spent it all.
Mann soon found a well-paying job building highways across the Midwest so he could bring his love to America.
“I corresponded with her. I was getting one letter a week,” Mann said.
After a while Peggy’s letters stopped coming in the mail and three months later he received one last letter.
“In that letter she told me she married an Air Force man and she lost the baby and it was just dead to me,” Mann said. “I was pretty devastated.”
He later learned that 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 church girl,” Mann explained.
Mann thought his first love was over, so he moved on. He had two marriages – one of 17 years, the other of 47 years.
He has six children, 18 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren.
Even with all his happiness, Mann never forgot Peggy.
“It started to haunt me more and more over the years. I left her 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 photo he took in Japan.
The only clue he has is that she was in her late 80s or early 90s and she said she married an Air Force man from Wisconsin.
“The big thing that really makes it difficult is that she thinks I’ve abandoned her, and I just can’t get that out of my soul,” Mann said.
Mann hopes he can work things out.
“I would say, ‘I’m coming to see you late in life. There’s one thing I want you to know – that I haven’t let you down,” Mann said if his path leads back to Peggy after 70 years.
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