Former POW Visits Alma Mater to Share Story on Veterans Day

Paul Loong ’58, M.D., and daughter Theresa Loong presented Every Day is a Holiday, a documentary about his path to American citizenship from captivity in Japan.

Paul Loong ’58 and his daughter Theresa To celebrate Veterans Day, Manhattan College hosted Jasper alumnus, World War II Prisoner of War (POW) and Korean War veteran Paul Loong ’58, M.D., and his daughter Theresa Loong, a filmmaker.

The Nov. 11 visit included a screening of Theresa Loong’s documentary Every Day is a Holiday, which details her father’s journey from 19-year-old Japanese POW to American citizen.

Following his three-year captivity in a Japanese internment camp, Malayan-born Loong arrived in the United States to start a new life. He served as a merchant seaman aboard American ships until the beginning of the Korean War, when he enlisted in the military.

For nine years, Loong was denied citizenship by the country for which he served on the front lines. Finally, on Jan. 9, 1956, a day he says was one of his happiest, Loong was naturalized.

He attended Manhattan College on the GI Bill and went on to study medicine in Italy. He practiced as a doctor at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in East Orange, N.J., until his retirement.

During his recent visit to Riverdale, 90-year-old Paul Loong reflected on his experiences as a Jasper and a veteran, and Theresa Loong shared hers as a storyteller:

What influence did the Christian Brothers and Manhattan College have on your life?

Paul: I spent four of the best years of my life at this College. What a peaceful place it was. What a holy place. Just a simple example is to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament — instead of having to go very far, you go to the Chapel. It was a really peaceful four years. The last time I was here was the summer of 1971. I haven’t been back since.

What was your favorite class at Manhattan College?

Paul: I liked literature, reading things like The Great Gatsby, learning about the Roaring 20s and American history.

What did you enjoy most about practicing medicine?

Paul: To be able to work with veterans — most of my patients were veterans of World War II — to work with them, to help them, to talk about old times and joke with them. And to repay my gratitude to them. Without those guys, a lot of things would be different in this country.

Did you do anything special today for Veterans Day?

Paul: Just say a prayer for the departed souls. I imagine most of those departed souls of World War II are in a better place. You know, those guys never thought they did something glorious. They just got in, were drafted, and did their duty and came back, that’s all.

What’s your advice to current Manhattan College students? How can they live every day as a holiday?

Paul: Just do the normal things, right? Do your homework, say your prayers, stay away from drugs. I thank the Brothers for giving me a strong foundation of truth. Stay on a straight and narrow path.

What do you hope viewers take away from the film?

Theresa: I find it interesting that you can take history, you can study it in multiple ways or present it. So, one way is to study it in a classroom; one is what I was working on, a documentary; or writing articles, or adapting it for a play or operetta. I think that all these different ways to communicate history — past and present, or future — is really valuable. I hope that the students also take that message away. It took a long time to talk to my dad about this, and, like he said coming in, he doesn’t think the story’s that interesting. But these stories, whether it’s his or the Brothers’, even students’ here — they’re valuable. We have to reinforce that.

What have you learned through the process of creating Every Day is a Holiday?

Theresa: What I’ve learned is that there’s something to be said for persistence and setting goals. It wasn’t easy for my dad to tell this story, and it wasn’t easy for me to pry it out of him. If you want to be a storyteller, you have to have patience, be authentic and you have to listen.

Paul: Always tell the truth and truth will prevail.

By Julie Benns