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Picture of WWII vet, 93, casting ballot in Hawaii captures hearts

  • Last Vote_Angu.jpg

    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. (AP)

  • Last Vote_Angu (1)640.jpg

    Nov. 2011: Photo provided by Irene Tanabe; Frank Tanabe holds a replica of the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C., awarded collectively to Japanese-American veterans of World War II, including those who served in his unit, the Military Intelligence Service. (AP)

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."

Several Reddit commentators asked whether Tanabe's vote would be counted if he passed away before Election Day on Nov. 6.

Glenn Takahashi, Honolulu election administrator, said absentee ballots cast by voters who later die become invalid if the state Department of Health notifies elections officials of the death before Election Day. To void a ballot when that happens, officials have to be able to sort through tens of thousands of ballots to find the one in question. This is not always practical, and so the ballot is counted if it isn't.

A similar situation arose in Honolulu four years ago when President Barack Obama's grandmother died two nights before the election but after she mailed her absentee ballot. Hawaii counted her vote anyway because the Health Department didn't receive her certificate of death before the election.

Barbara Tanabe said her father, a quiet, unassuming man, would wonder what the fuss over the photo was about. But he'd be thrilled it encouraged others to vote, she said.

"That would be the ultimate honor for him," she said.

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