Those who were close to him knew the story that was said to have shaped his never give up outlook on life. And the story is, indeed, remarkable.
LaGesse was 19 years old and stationed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese attacked. Many of his fellow servicemen died that day and many thought that LaGesse had too.
Lewis E. LaGesse lay stacked among the dead in Pearl Harbor, bleeding from his head, legs and arms. The 19-year-old Waco sailor had been knocked unconscious from the blast of a torpedo that slammed into his ship, the USS West Virginia, on Dec. 7, 1941.
A shipmate noticed his eyelashes fluttering and realized he was alive.
“One second – if he didn’t blink, if they didn’t move him – we wouldn’t be here,” his daughter, Lori LaGesse Cento, 51, said on Sunday.
Still, the Navy mistakenly told his mother by telegram that her son hadn’t survived the sneak attack, making him the first serviceman from Waco to die in World War II. Family held a memorial service for him, only to learn days later, by another telegram, that he had survived.
Read the full story: Veteran who cheated death at Pear Harbor dies
After the raid, LaGesse went on to participate in some of the most storied campaigns of the war in the Pacific including Battle of Guadalcanal and the Doolittle raid on Tokyo. After the war, he returned home to Texas where he studied engineering and built a career in purchasing. Up to his death he remained active in the community as a volunteer at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He also participated in various civic organizations.