The Lagassie household in Sheridan, Maine, was filled with much love and many children. Milford Lagassie was born on July 7, 1942 and was one of Stewart Lagasse and Sophie Baker Lagasse’s 15 children. There were 13 boys and two girls; this included two sets of twins.
Milford said that life was simple when he was a child. His mother was a great cook and filled the house with love and homemade meals. Respect and religion were important in the Lagasse household.
“We couldn’t swear or misbehave,” Milford recalls. “Mom brought us up to be good and to be involved with the church.”
Three of the Lagasse children were altar boys – Milford, his twin, Milton, and their youngest brother.
Milford and Milton are identical and when they were in school the teacher couldn’t tell them apart.
“Our mother always dressed us alike,” said Milton, adding that his mom had to start including their names on their clothing so the teacher could identify him from Milford.
Milford’s father worked at Great Northern Paper Co., at the time, one of the state’s booming paper mills. He was a good carpenter and despite working to support a large family, he always had time to create projects that thrilled his children.
“He built a big outdoor doll house for our sisters,” Milford said, “and he built a big two-person swing for us boys.”
Milton never tried the swing, but Milford loved it.
“He was a daredevil and I was just the opposite,” Milton said.
Both give much credit to their parents, especially their mother, who gave birth to each of her 15 children at home.
“There were no ultrasounds back then so mom didn’t expect us twins,” Milton said. “Ten years before in 1932 she had her first set of twins, Gerald and Harold, and then we came along 10 years later.”
According to Milton, the story goes that the doctor and midwife came out to announce that Sophie had given birth to a baby boy then said, “‘And Stewart, in about five or 10 minutes she’s going to have another.’”
Despite having a large family to tend to, Sophie also ran a small grocery store near the Legassie family home that she named Jeanette’s, after her first-born girl.
“We never wanted for anything,” Milton said.
“We had good parents,” Milford recalls.
Milford remembers fondly that on a Saturday or Sunday his father would take all the kids into Ashland for a movie.
Lost in the Maine Woods
Like many boys and young men in The County, Milford liked to fish and hunt. Because of his large family, he had nephews his age and they liked to hunt together. During one such trip in late fall, despite his best efforts, Milford got lost.
“I kept going in all directions,” he said, adding that the thicker the woods he ventured into, the darker it seemed to be.
No one in the hunting party had seen any signs of Milford, so his nephew made it back to the truck and blew the horn over and over, hoping it would serve as a signal. To Milford, the horn sounded like it was echoing from all directions.
He made a hard and fast decision to head east and ended up face to face with a Maine black bear.
“I turned and went in exactly the opposite direction,” he said.
Making great speed through the woods, he shortly arrived at the clearing where his nephew was waiting. And that, Milford likes to say, “is how a bear came to save my life.”
Milford Joins the Navy
After high school, Milford found himself in Connecticut, working at aerospace manufacturer Pratt and Whitney.
“One day while I was walking around and getting familiar with my new surroundings I walked by a recruiting office and went in,” he said.
He wanted to join the Marines, but because of a medical condition, flat feet, he was disqualified from service in the Corps.
The Navy was happy to accept Milford, however, and he enlisted in May 1963. He completed basic training at The Great Lakes Naval Training Center on the shore of Lake Michigan in Lake County, Illinois. Third Class Petty Officer Lagasse graduated from gunnery school after boot camp and was assigned to the USS Newport News where his job was Mount Captain Gunner.
Not only did Milford have to ensure his gunnery skills were in tip top shape, but he had to learn to become a good swimmer and to stay afloat in case the ship went down or if he fell overboard. He chuckles when he recalls learning that the bell-bottom pants of his uniform could be used as a flotation device and life preserver.
He also chuckled as he recalled telling the bear story to his shipmates and how they teased him: “Hey, Milford, which way is the bear going?”
While serving during the Vietnam War from 1963 to 1967, Milford completed a number of jobs, including helping troops prepare for evacuating U.S. citizens out of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic.
The same year Milford joined the Navy - 1963 - his twin enlisted in the U.S. Army. Additionally, their four oldest brothers had joined the military before them, setting the stage for their siblings.
Milford and Milton even arranged to see one another while in the service when Milton traveled to Newport News, Virginia. Milton, in civilian clothes, boarded the USS Newport News to look for his brother and was stopped by an officer who wanted to know why he wasn’t in uniform - he mistook Milton for his brother.
Once the twins found one another, they had a good visit and both donned their uniforms for dinner off the ship. They marked the visit with a photo that Milton still keeps at home.
Life After the Military
Milford returned to Maine in 1967 and met his wife, Leola, a girl from his hometown. They have a son, Toby, who lives nearby. He then traveled to Connecticut where he worked as a foreman for a heating plant. After that he was employed in the maintenance department of a housing project in Connecticut and then moved to Maine where worked in a similar position for a housing project in Portland. He eventually moved to Presque Isle to do similar work.
Now a resident at Maine Veterans’ Homes - Caribou, Milford credits staff with improving his health. “I’m thankful for MVH and all of the staff,” he says. Milford is well known throughout the Home, visiting with other residents and taking part in many of the activities. His hobbies include Bingo, Pokeno, and watching horse races. He also enjoys watching Westerns and listening to country music.
Milford Lagasse has been named June Veteran of the Month at Maine Veterans’ Homes - Caribou. Thank you for your service, Milford.
About Maine Veterans’ Homes
The six Maine Veterans’ Homes locations not only provide assisted living residential care and short-term skilled nursing care, but they also offer rehabilitation and therapy programs. MVH Bangor, especially, provides an extensive rehab program for both residents and non-residents. Download our MVH Guide to Rehab & Therapy >>>