Looking at him today, few would guess Paul Loong, 88, has a larger-than-life story. Even his daughter, Theresa Loong, a filmmaker, was taken by surprise when she discovered her father's diary from his time in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II.
She chronicles her father's story in the documentary "Every Day Is A Holiday
," which is being released to coincide with Memorial Day in the United States, a time when Americans honor those serving in the military.
Japan entered World War II in December 1941, attacking British-controlled Malaya and Singapore almost at the same time as Pearl Harbor.
Paul Loong, a young Malaysian, was fighting with the British. When they surrendered the Malay Peninsula, Loong and thousands of others were shipped off to Japan, where they did hard labor as prisoners of war.
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Life was brutal in the three years Loong spent as a POW. One out of every five prisoners died in the first year.
"I think they thought they were going to win the war," Loong says, "that they were not going to answer to any war crimes."
The POWs did hard labor from dawn to dusk and were beaten daily, according to Loong.
"With a stick, with rifle butts, with whatever they had handy," he says.
He began to keep the diary his daughter would discover decades later. In it he wrote that if he made it out alive, 'Everyday will be a holiday.'
"Can you imagine getting up, no one to bother you, no one to beat you up with a butt of a rifle," he says. "Peace at last. That's what I consider a holiday."
After being freed, Loong sailed to America, reaching San Francisco in 1947. But his road to US citizenship was long and difficult. He even enlisted in the US military and fought in the Korean war in hopes of becoming a US citizen. He finally became an American in 1956.
"This was one of the happiest days of my life," he recalls.
Over the nine years and despite attempts by US Immigration to deport him, Loong never lost hope.
"No regrets, no regrets," he says. "The main thing is I came here. I became a citizen. I have a nice family. What more do you want? Millions of dollars? You cannot take one red penny with you when you die, right?"
With the help of veterans' benefits, Loong attended medical school and then worked as a physician at the Department of Veterans Affairs in New Jersey, where he raised his family.
His daughter believes we should learn from people all around us who have served in the military.
"Whether it's about the war, World War II, Korea, Vietnam. We have these returning vets from Afghanistan and Iraq," says Theresa Loong. "Take some time to spend a few minutes with someone 'cause you really don't know what you're going to find out."
She says her father, like everyone, has his tough days but he continues to honor his personal philosophy, taking every day as a holiday.