Mukilteo pioneer ‘Mas’ Odoi dies at 92

MUKILTEO — Masaru “Mas” Odoi, a World War II veteran and Mukilteo pioneer, died in July at 92.

Odoi, who was Japanese- American, was born in Mukilteo in 1921. He volunteered to fight for the U.S. forces while he, his parents and his siblings were held in an internment camp after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He served in combat in Europe and earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star.

For the first years of his life, Odoi lived in Japanese Gulch, at a time when Japanese sawmill workers were learning how to fit into the larger Mukilteo community.

Later, he became an active member of the Mukilteo Historical Society. He helped push for the city’s monument on Fifth Street to the Japanese men andwomen who once resided in the village at Japanese Gulch. The sculpture, a bronze origami-style crane, represents peace.

In 2008, Odoi was named Mukilteo’s Pioneer of the Year, said longtime historical society volunteer Ann Collier.

“What we all appreciated about him so much was his enthusiasm about Mukilteo,” she said last week. “He just had so many ideas of ways of making Mukilteo better and of recognizing Mukilteo as an outstanding town that he had grown up in.”

Throughout the years, Odoi drove to Mukilteo for historical society events and meetings, even in bad weather, said Tude Richter, another volunteer who grew up in town.

Odoi loved to talk about his childhood, she said.

“He was a dear, dear man. I just loved him,” she said. “And he loved Mukilteo with all his heart.”

Odoi’s life story was chronicled in a two-part series in The Herald in 2006 called “A Place of Happiness and Peace.” The first part shared his memories of growing up in the gulch. The second part detailed his military service, and the road he followed back to his childhood home.

Odoi was buried with full military honors at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.

He worked hard throughout his life, said his son, Gary Odoi. When he had time off, he’d take his wife, Frances, and the children traveling and camping.

As Mas Odoi got older, it was important to him to stay independent, and to care for himself and his wife, Gary Odoi said. His father’s best quality was that he stayed calm in chaos.

It’s a skill his son still tries to emulate.

In the war, when a mortar blast cut open Mas Odoi’s neck, he pressed his thumb against the bleeding, as he’d been trained. He passed out.

When he woke up, and he was still alive, he figured he’d better trudge back to base for medical treatment, Gary Odoi said.

“He had this amazing capacity to stay unflappable and keep his wits about him whenever he was in a life-threatening situation,” he said. “That’s something I’ve always admired him for.”

Mas Odoi’s favorite poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling, which talks about a son becoming a man. The poem begins, “If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you …”

Odoi wrote poetry, too, with a special love for haiku, said his niece, Nori Odoi.

Her favorite of his was a passage about life being brief, but the journey being long, she said.

It went: “After a thousand mile/Journey of the soul/A brief white cap frolics.”

Odoi was deeply religious, and his favorite part of the Bible was the Sermon on the Mount, especially the Beatitudes, his son said. His father also gave presentations at schools about the war, to teach children about the past.

From his own childhood, Odoi fondly remembered the Japanese women in Mukilteo trying to learn English, and making American-style food, Gary Odoi said. His father always said he was grateful to others in Mukilteo who were kind to the Japanese in those days.

The historical society plans to post another of Odoi’s haiku near the graves of Japanese sawmill workers buried at Pioneer Cemetery in town, Collier said.

The poem goes: “Thanks to kind strangers/Who sanctify the grave of/A long lost brother.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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