Maseru “Mas” Odoiz: 1921 – 2013
Mas Odoi opened his eyes for the first time on July 12, 1921 within a small three-room home in Mukilteo’s Japanese Gulch.
His father, Teichi Odoi, had come to Mukilteo in 1907 to work for the Crown Lumber Co. Teichi later returned to Japan to marry Mas’s mother, Chikaye Kobayashi, as arranged by their families.
Teichi returned with his new bride to Mukilteo in 1917, and they were blessed with five children: Mas and his twin brother Hiroshi, brother Saburo (Roy), and their sisters, Hisako and Miriam (born in Ilwaco in1937).
Mas only lived in Mukilteo until 1931, but that first decade of his life left a lasting impression on him, and he spoke ever afterward about his idyllic childhood.
Seventy years later, Mas worked with the Mukilteo Historical Society and the city of Mukilteo to create a monument in honor of the harmonious relations between Mukilteo residents and the Japanese immigrants of the early 1900s.
The Mukilteo Japanese Memorial monument, erected in 2000 in Centennial Park on Fifth Street, is something of a personal homage by Mas to his childhood in Mukilteo, a community he often described as a “place of happiness and peace.”
After the Crown Lumber Co. closed in 1930, the Odoi family moved to the Ilwaco area to find work in oyster farming. The early education of Mas and Hiro in Mukilteo’s Rosehill School enabled them to excel in Ilwaco High School, where they graduated as co-valedictorians.
All their future plans, including education at the University of Washington, were dashed in 1942 when the Odoi family was moved into an internment camp near Minidoka, Idaho.
The shock of this treatment was profound, but Mas never lost faith in his adopted country. He and Hiro volunteered as soon as possible for the U.S. Army and both served with great distinction in Europe as members of the highly decorated 442nd Regiment.
Deeply wounded by the internment and seriously injured in the war, the spirit and patriotism of Mas Odoi would remain, nonetheless, undaunted for the rest of his life.
He always expressed gratitude for the recognition, medals, presidential apology and official payment, and even an honorary degree from UW, that were eventually bestowed upon him.
But what he always talked about the most was his pride in a country that had the courage to admit a mistake and to reaffirm to its ideals.
After marriage, family, and a career that took him from Chicago to southern California, Mas and his wife, Frances, returned to the Puget Sound area in 1990.
He was named the Mukilteo Pioneer of the Year in 2008, and remained active in the Mukilteo Historical Society almost to the end.
Mas died on July 28, 2013, and was buried with military honors at the Tahoma National Cemetery. He is survived by his wife, Frances, and his two sons, Gary and Richard.
A few years ago, Mas was inspired to write a poem when he learned that the residents of Mukilteo have continued to take care of the graves of three Japanese workers who were buried in Pioneer Cemetery a century ago.
An interpretive sign, soon to be placed at the cemetery, concludes with the haiku poetry of Mas Odoi:
Thanks to kind strangers
Who sanctify the grave of
A long lost brother