Richard Lalla was born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1937 and spent three years living with other siblings in an orphanage on Westport Road in Kansas City. Richard says the orphanage experience was not a pleasant one. They slept on cots in a large room with everyone else, and occasionally his dad would come and visit him and his siblings. Two of his brothers had muscular dystrophy. When Richard was young, he worked as a soda jerk at Katz Drug store on Independence and Prospect.
Later, Richard was able to return home to live with his father in Kansas City. Richard began working for the Missouri Pacific Railroad when he was 16 years old to contribute financially to the family. He also attended Manual High School in Kansas City.
IN THE RESERVES
Richard was married when he was 17 years old, and he joined the Reserves because his supervisor was in the Reserves and encouraged Richard to join. Richard attended boot camp at Fort Eustis, Va., home of the U.S. Army Transportation Corps.
Richard’s training at Fort Eustis was centered on operating the railroad all around the James River in Virginia and related to foreign box cars, how to run the cars, how to repair them, how to identify the foreign parts for the box cars because in case of a World War, the railroad could be one of the first targets. Richard trained with the regular Army and was in the Reserves for nine years. He wanted to join the regular Army, but his family circumstances made that difficult.
In 1962, Richard came very close to being deployed during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Richard worked for the Missouri Pacific Railroad for 32 years as a car foreman where he kept trains safe and ready for departure and retired in 1985.
Richard, a self-taught musician, enjoys playing music at music jams in various community centers and clubs in the metropolitan area.
Beginning in mid-November, Veteran Salute will be published monthly. Peggy Sowders with the Independence Parks and Recreation Department helps veterans from throughout the area tell their stories for a historical record at the Truman Memorial Building. If you would like to help a veteran tell his or her story, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.