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Monday, May 7, 2012

For POW-Turned-Doctor, ‘Every Day Is A Holiday’

Paul Loong. (Courtesy Loong Family)

As a 19 year-old Chinese Malay serving in the British Royal Air Force during World War II, Paul Loong was captured by the Japanese and did hard labor for three years in a prisoner of war camp.

The mortality rate was high — one in five prisoners died in the first winter and the prisoners were beaten and fed meager rations.

“You know, those unpleasant things fade away gradually,” Loong said. “Until you don’t feel like talking about them.”

But at 88 years old, he doesn’t think one can completely forget. On a recent trip to Japan with his family, Loong visited the site of the P.O.W. camp and could not hold back his emotions.

“I could not help but cry, thinking of the people who could have been saved with some decent medical care,” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

‘Every Day Is A Holiday’ Documentary

Paul’s daughter Theresa says, “It’s the only time I’ve ever seen my daddy cry.” Theresa Loong has documented her father’s life and experiences in a new film called “Every Day is a Holiday.”

The title is based on something Paul wrote in a secret diary he kept during his years as a prisoner of war. He promised himself that if he survived the camp, “every day would be a holiday.”

Not only would he survive the P.O.W. camp, but he would eventually gain citizenship in the United States and become a doctor.

The Struggle To Become A Citizen

Paul went through great lengths to become an American citizen during a time when only 105 Chinese immigrants per year were permitted to gain citizenship.

He became a merchant marine, because the laws at the time allowed anyone who served aboard a U.S. ship for five years to become citizens. But that fell through. So Paul enlisted in the U.S. Army, and went on to fight another war in Korea.

Although he remembers being made fun of and called names upon his arrival in the U.S., Paul says he wanted to come to the country for freedom, and all the opportunities given to immigrants.

Theresa says her dad’s perseverance reminds her to keep positive in the face of hardship. Her film “Every Day is a Holiday” will air on PBS stations throughout the country all through the month.

And for Paul, is every day really a holiday? “Yes,” he says. “I still believe that.”


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  • Lisa C.

    You used the word, “Chink” when describing what Mr. Loong was called when he came to the United States. I flinched when I heard it. I am a third generation Japanese American and I am taken aback in the rare times I’ve been called a Jap in my life. I would never consider using a name like that to anyone in my parents generation who has even more painful associations. I understand it is in a historical context, and perhaps they did not mind, but I did.

  • T&R

    Is this documentary going to be on TV?

    • Emiko

      Hello, this is Emiko the producer.  To find out where to watch the documentary, check out this link: http://www.everydayisaholiday.org/

      On the front page is another link that has all the TV showings and a way to check where the film is being shown in your area.

  • Guest

    Lisa, I understand. I, however, read this as a great story of endurance and hope. He never gave up his dream and worked through legal channels to achieve that dream. What a hero and a great example of what can be overcome by following the rules and doing it right. His endurance brought change.

    CONGRATULATIONS, Mr. Paul Loong and thank you for your service.

  • Bradleydurham

    I watched the documentary today, I found myself  both laughing and crying throughout.  I am so thankful that I was able to watch this biography.  I cant believe just what Dr Loong has been through in his life and yet he lives life so beautifully.   I have a deep and profound respect for the veterans that shaped my way of life today and Dr Loong deserves the title of a HERO.  This is truly a life changing story, thank you for sharing your darkest moments and your most illuminating accomplishments. 

  • Eileen W.

    Thank God for digital / independent film making. Kudos to Theresa Loong for using her talents to share with us the story of her extraordinary father. His motto for living is inspiring. I enjoyed especially the segment of the return to Japan and Paul is so accepting of the Japanese people.

  • Nick

    I had the chance to catch only the second half of this documentary last night and really enjoyed it. Being Chinese American myself, it hits a soft spot in me. He truly is a hero and I respect his strength through all his struggles. Great documentary. I hope to see the whole film soon. 

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