I never thought of my dad, Paul Loong, as being particular mechanical, even though he was pretty meticulous when it came to car oil changes and maintaining the lawn mower.
So it kind of surprised me growing up to learn that he enlisted in the RAF as a mechanic. And went to electrical school in Chicago.
And drove a tank during the Korean War.
When we last left the story, it was April 19, 1951, and Dad was in New Orleans, having just learned that his three years of service as a fireman on oil tankers meant exactly jack when it came to getting his US citizenship.
Which is why, five days later, he was in Newark, NJ, registering for the draft.
Note the dates, which says he was born in 1925. Only, dad was born in 1923. Why does it say 1925 on the card?
Dad gave the answer in Every Day Is a Holiday: He lied, to stay eligible for the draft, which in post-WWII America, cut off at 26. He said he was 25 and a half, instead his true age, 27 and a half.
That’s right: My dad lied so he could get drafted to fight in the Korean War.
Technically, as a non-green-card foreign national (and really, illegal alien), he wasn’t really eligible for service at all. But I don’t think the Army at the time knew, or cared.
The Army must have figured it out at some point, since originally it was going to send him to Officer Candidate School (OCS), but then changed its mind. But it also didn’t kick him out of the service.
Like he says in the film, “I drove a medium tank before I could drive a car.”
Here’s a photo of dad being awarded Outstanding Trainee of the Day at Fort Knox. If you know my dad, this will not be surprising. (You can see the accompanying press release from the public information office of the 3rd Armored Division):
Going through the nuts and bolts, he arrived at Yokohama, Japan, and was sent to Camp Drake. From there, he shipped out from Yokohama to Pusan, Korea, then to Chunchon, where he was attached to Charlie Company, 89th Tank Battalion, 25th Infantry Division. (He still wears the “Tropic Lightning” insignia of the 25th Division on his baseball cap.)
Dad was in Korea from about June 1952 to June 1953. Like he says in the film, he started as an assistant driver, then worked his way up through driver, loader, gunner (where he spent most his tour), and (one day as) tank commander.
Dad never talked much about his experiences during the war. He says his unit mostly provided artillery support, and he doesn’t go into much detail. He does tell one story, though, which if you know my dad, also will not be surprising:
When his unit was on the move, during the occasional rest break, most soldiers would relax, take a smoke, kick around for a while. Dad says he’d always get out, and the first thing he’d do was inspect the tracks and the running gear, making sure they were tight and in good condition, so they wouldn’t be immobilized by a thrown track (which would a bad thing in combat).
An officer saw this, and held him up as an example to the other troops.
I’m not sure if the other soldiers would have resented him, seeing him as a suck up, but that was just my dad being himself: Conscientious, and not wanting to be put in danger by something that he could control. And I don’t think they did.
Dad’s tour was up in June 1953, and he rotated back to the US. Where he was promptly arrested by the INS for being an illegal alien. More on what happened after that in the next post.
All photos in this post are screencaps from the film, Every Day Is a Holiday, and come from my father’s scrapbook. We’re working on digitizing and archiving all of them, including the captions he meticulously wrote in the margins.
In the meantime, learn how to buy a copy of Every Day Is a Holiday on DVD, where you can also sign up to be notified when the film becomes available on premium streaming services and other events.