WWII vet dies at age 93 after casting last ballot

October 24, 2012 - 9:34 PM
Last Vote

FILE - 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. Barbara Tanabe says her father died Wednesday morning, Oct. 24, 2012 at her Honolulu home. He was 93. Hundreds of thousands of people saw a photo of Frank Tanabe filling out his absentee ballot with the help of his daughter last week, after his nephew posted the picture on a social media site. (AP Photo/Irene Tanabe)

HONOLULU (AP) — A World War II veteran who inspired many with his determination to vote even though he had end-stage liver cancer died Wednesday.

Frank Tanabe's daughter Barbara Tanabe said he died at her Honolulu home, where he has spent the past few weeks in hospice. He was 93.

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 people saw a photo of Frank Tanabe filling out his absentee ballot with the help of his daughter last week, after his grandson posted the picture on the social media site Reddit.

The photo struck a chord, prompting 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.

Barbara Tanabe said she told her father about all 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. Even if they do receive the certificate, it most likely won't be practical for elections officials to pick out his ballot from the thousands of absentee ballots mailed in.

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.