Honolulu man votes one last time -- from his deathbed

Frank Tanabe’s health is deteriorating fast, but his desire to vote is not.

The 93-year-old Japanese American lies on his deathbed in his daughter’s Honolulu home, in hospice care since early September after doctors discovered his liver cancer had spread to his bones.

He doesn’t eat much, barely drinks water and no longer talks, his daughter, Barbara Tanabe, told the Los Angeles Times.

But just because he can’t speak doesn’t mean Tanabe’s voice won’t be heard.


In what will probably be his last dutiful act for his country, Tanabe voted absentee last week with his family’s help.

“I would let him know, ‘Hey, the ballots are coming next week. Just hang in there,’ ” Barbara Tanabe said. “When Wednesday came, I hurried into his room. ‘OK, I’m going to read you the names and you just nod yes or no.’ ”

Frank Tanabe voted with his wife, Setsuko, by his side. Barbara said her father never missed an election.

He read the newspaper “cover to cover” daily, and when macular degeneration began to take his vision, he used a magnifying glass.

His resilience has astounded doctors, his daughter said. Tanabe lifts his arms, shakes his fists and tucks his knees into his chest every day for exercise. He’s been holding on to cast his ballot.

“We were inspired to know that his commitment to being an American and exercising his right to vote was that important to him,” his daughter said.

That quiet, patriotic moment went viral when Barbara’s nephew, Noah, posted a picture of his grandfather voting on the website, where the feedback poured in.

People are calling him a patriot, a true American.

Born in 1919, Tanabe went to high school in Washington state and attended the University of Washington. After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was among more than 100,000 Japanese Americans confined to internment camps during World War II.

Because he spoke English and Japanese, he worked on the Tule Lake camp newspaper, the Irrigator. He volunteered for the military and worked in the Army’s Military Intelligence Service.

Last year, Tanabe received a Congressional Gold Medal as part of the Military Intelligence Service, which was collectively recognized.

“I think he considered [voting] a responsibility, but also a fundamental right that he fought for,” Barbara Tanabe said. “He saw people die fighting for their country. The foundation of our country is the ability to be able to vote and affect policies that change society.”

Hawaii state law requires that if a voter dies before the polls open on election day, his ballot must be invalidated. But circumstances could make that impossible. Among other things, the health department would have to notify election officials of his death by Nov. 6, and officials would have to find the deceased’s absentee ballot among the tens of thousands that will pour in over the next couple of weeks.

So in all likelihood, Frank Tanabe’s voice will be heard one last time -- even if from the grave.

“This is quite a turnaround from the experience during the war when they were called un-American, unpatriotic,” his daughter said. “To have these accolades at the end of his life was truly, truly wonderful and heartfelt. And it could only happen in America, he would say.”



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