Frank Tanabe always did his duty, even after the federal government sent him and other Japanese-Americans to internment camps in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. And now, as the World War II Army veteran lies on his deathbed, he has performed what is likely to be his last service to his country: he voted absentee.
At 93 and in hospice care for inoperable cancer at his home in Honolulu, Tanabe's determination to cast what is likely to be his last ballot went viral after his grandson posted a photo Thursday on the social network site Reddit. Nearly 600,0000 people have viewed the picture showing Tanabe's daughter Barbara as she helped him fill out an absentee ballot.
The top-rated comments for the post, according to the Associated Press, were "True Patriotism," "This is America. Amen," and "Thank you, Citizen."
Despite a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer two months ago and a deteriorating condition that sent him into hospice care, Tanabe anxiously waited for his absentee ballot to arrive in the mail, his daughter Barbara Tanabe told AP. As soon as it came Wednesday, he insisted on filling it out.
As his daughter read aloud the candidates' names, he nodded "yes" or "no" and she filled in the boxes on his behalf.
"There were some that were OK, but there were others where I said, 'Dad, are you sure?"' she said in explaining that she didn't always agree with his choices but cast the names she was told. Tanabe, who didn't reveal her father's preferences, said he had all his mental faculties and had read newspapers and kept up on the news until only recently.
Doing one's civic duty has always been important to Tanabe, who volunteered for the Army from California's Tule Lake internment camp. He was one of 110,000 Japanese-Americans ordered detained by President Franklin Roosevelt after the war began.
Tanabe was assigned to the Army's Military Intelligence Service, which collectively was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal last year along with soldiers from the highly-decorated all-Nisei 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team .
"I'd like to accept on behalf of all hyphenated Americans, including American-Americans," Tanabe told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser last year. "We all served together in defense of our country."
Barbara Tanabe said her father "feels like joining the Army, going to the camp, fighting in the war, and fighting discrimination -- these were all things he did so that we have this precious right to vote."
Noah Tanabe, who posted the photo on Reddit, told the AP he thinks about his grandfather every time he goes to vote.
"It's hard to imagine -- after his family business is torched, his family imprisoned, and denied the opportunity to finish his college education -- he volunteered to serve," he said. "I don't know if I would have done the same thing, but we are all very proud of him."
With two weeks left to go before Election Day, it's possible Tanabe won't live to see the winner. A Hawaii election official told the AP that absentee ballots cast by voters who die before Nov. 6 would become invalid if the state Department of Health notifies elections officials of the death before Election Day. But that's easier said than done since election officials have to wade through tens of thousands of ballots to find the one cast by a dead person.
When then-presidential candidate Barack Obama's grandmother died two nights before the election, her mailed absentee ballot was counted because Hawaii's health department didn't receive her death certificate until after the election.