Frank Shinichiro Tanabe, 93, a World War II veteran, has been living under hospice care for the past three weeks, but that has not stopped him from casting what will probably be his last ballot.
A photograph of Tanabe filling out his absentee ballot from his hospital bed became one of the most popular submissions on Reddit Thursday after one of his daughters, Irene Tanabe, uploaded it to the social media site.
Tanabe, who is battling an inoperable tumor doctors found on his liver two months ago, speaks less these days -- a symptom of his deteriorating condition -- but family members said he was determined to vote.
“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,” his daughter, Barbara Tanabe, told the Associated Press. "For so many people to express their heartfelt tribute to my father was really, really heartwarming for us."
Tanabe was born in Osaka, Japan on Aug. 10, 1919, in what he describes as unique circumstances. In a 2008 video interview from the Densho Digital Archive, Tanabe described how his mother immigrated to the United States from Japan, but decided to return to her homeland upon discovering she was pregnant.
About two years later, Tanabe’s mother returned with him to the United States, where they stayed. He was raised in Seattle and after high school, decided to enroll at the University of Washington. But on December 7, 1941 the United States was attacked by Japan during the infamous bombing of Pearl Harbor, and shortly after, on federal orders from Franklin D. Roosevelt, Tanabe was hastily ordered to leave school and forced to move into an internment camp with his family.
It was during his incarceration at the Tule Lake Internment Camp, that Tanabe decided to enlist in the military, although he says now that he can no longer remember what prompted him to make that decision. “I don’t know how I got stuck in the Army, but one day, in December, I remember being in the induction center, and spending the whole day… taking this test and that test …” said Tanabe.
Along with all of the other Japanese-American recruits, he was automatically recruited to the Military Intelligence Service, a classified unit of the Army, where he served overseas and later managed his own team of translators. Tanabe eventually returned to Japan, with the army, during the Allied Occupation, supposedly as a punishment for taking unauthorized medical leave in Shanghai to recuperate from malaria.
But in the past few years, Tanabe has began receiving recognition for his service. In 2008, the University of Washington presented Tanabe, along with many other Japanese-Americans who were forced to leave college, with an honorary degree. Last year, he and his entire unit were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
“I'd like to accept on behalf of all hyphenated Americans, including American-Americans. We all served together in defense of our country,” he said in his acceptance speech, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
When his daughter, Barbara Tanabe, was asked what her father would make of all the fuss over the photograph, she said he would be thrilled to motivate others to vote. "That would be the ultimate honor for him," she said.