In this Oct. 17, 2012 photo provided by Irene Tanabe, Frank Tanabe, center, gets help from his daughter Barbara Tanabe, left, to fill out his absentee ballot in Honolulu while his wife Setsuko Tanabe sits in the foreground. The photo of the 93-year-old World War II veteran casting what will likely be his last ballot has captured the hearts of tens of thousands of Internet users. Photo by: AP Photo/Irene Tanabe
October 22, 2012 9:47:28 AM
HONOLULU -- A photograph of a 93-year-old World War II veteran casting what will likely be his last ballot has captured the hearts of tens of thousands of Internet users.
The photo shows Frank Tanabe lying in a hospital bed at home as his daughter Barbara Tanabe helps him fill out his absentee ballot. A half-million people saw the picture on the website Reddit after his grandson posted it there on Thursday, making it one of the most popular items on the social media network for a day after.
"True Patriotism," was the top rated comment on the post. "This is America. Amen," was next, followed by "Thank you, Citizen."
Doctors diagnosed Tanabe with an inoperable cancer tumor in his liver two months ago. He's been in hospice care for the past three weeks at his daughter's home. His condition has been deteriorating, and he's been speaking little lately.
He's been determined to vote regardless, eagerly asking when the ballot would be arriving in the mail, his daughter said. She kept telling him, "don't worry, it's coming." He filled it out immediately when it landed in the mailbox on Wednesday.
Barbara Tanabe read aloud the names of the candidates to her dad. He either nodded "yes" to the names or shook his head "no." She filled in the boxes on his behalf, following his instructions even when he didn't pick the people she wanted.
"There were some that were OK, but there were others where I said, 'Dad, are you sure?"' she said.
But he knew what he was doing. He's kept up on the issues, reading newspapers regularly until only recently, she said.
Tanabe volunteered to join the Army from behind barbed wire at the Tule Lake internment camp in California. He was pulled out of college at the University of Washington and taken to the camp when President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered 110,000 Japanese-Americans detained and isolated after the start of the war with Japan.
The Army assigned Tanabe to the Military Intelligence Service, a classified unit whose members were collectively awarded the Congressional Gold Medal last year along with soldiers who served in the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team -- highly decorated segregated units of mostly Japanese-Americans.
"I'd like to accept on behalf of all hyphenated Americans, including American-Americans," Tanabe told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser at the time. "We all served together in defense of our country."
Noah Tanabe, the grandson who posted the photo online, said he thinks about his grandfather every time he votes.
"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. I don't know if I would have done the same thing, but we are all very proud of him," he said.
The family has been surprised and gratified by the online comments on the photo, Barbara Tanabe said.
"I think he 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," she said. "For so many people to express their heartfelt tribute to my father was really, really heartwarming for us."
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