Published October 25, 2012
HONOLULU – A World War II veteran whose effort to vote from his deathbed inspired thousands has died a week after casting his final ballot.
Frank Tanabe passed away peacefully Wednesday at the Honolulu home of his daughter, where he's been in hospice treatment for the past few weeks after being diagnosed with an inoperable cancer tumor in his liver. He was 93.
His daughter Barbara Tanabe said she put the American flag up outside the home to mark the day for him and their family.
"He really liked it when I put out the flag," she said.
Hundreds of thousands of Internet users saw a photo of Frank Tanabe filling out his absentee ballot with the help of his daughter last week, when his grandson posted the picture on the social media site Reddit.
The image and his determination to vote on his sick bed struck a chord and prompted many to thank Frank Tanabe for his service and praise his patriotism. The story spread further when The Associated Press and other media organizations wrote about the photo and the response it generated online.
Tanabe served in a mostly Japanese-American unit of the Military Intelligence Service during the war, interrogating Japanese prisoners in India and China.
He volunteered for the Army from an internment camp where the U.S. government sent him as part of a policy to detain and isolate 110,000 Japanese-Americans after the start of the war with Japan. He spent time in both the Tule Lake camp in California and the Minidoka camp in Idaho.
Decades later, Tanabe explained how he felt in an interview for a documentary tribute to Japanese-American veterans.
"I wanted to do my part to prove that I was not an enemy alien, or that none of us were — that we were true Americans. And if we ever got the chance, we would do our best to serve our country. And we did," he said.
Congress gave its highest civilian honor to Tanabe and other Japanese-American veterans of the war last year when it awarded the Congressional Gold Medal collectively to those who served in the MIS, the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
Barbara Tanabe said she told her father about the news coverage his vote was getting, including stories that appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on the front page of the Idaho Statesman.
"I was thinking these are the two big newspapers in Idaho and California, where he went to camp," Barbara said. "It's just a nice way to look back at history and say that things do turn out OK."
Honolulu elections officials say Frank Tanabe's vote will be counted unless they receive his death certificate before the Nov. 6 election and they're able to find his ballot from among the tens of thousands of ballots mailed in.
This generally isn't practical, so like most cases when a voter dies after he or she casts an absentee ballot, his ballot will likely be counted.
His family knows which candidates he chose, but they've decided to keep that information private.
Barbara Tanabe said it's not important who her father voted for — it's the voting itself that makes a difference.