SAN DIEGO -- It's been almost 60 years since James McEachin returned home with a bullet still lodged in his chest, finding an America indifferent toward the troops who fought in Korea. Now he will get the homecoming parade he had expected.
The Defense Department for the first time will put a float in Pasadena's Tournament of Roses -- one of the most-watched parades -- to commemorate the veterans from a conflict that still casts a shadow over the world.
"I think it's a magnificent gesture and it cures a lot of ills," said McEachin, who will be among six veterans who will ride on the float today. The 82-year-old author and actor starred in Perry Mason TV movies, among other things.
The $247,000 flower-covered float will be a replica of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The Pentagon's debut comes ahead of events marking the 60th anniversary of the July 1953 armistice that halted the bloodshed but did not declare peace.
Col. David Clark said the Pentagon decided to seize the opportunity to sponsor one of the 42 floats in the 124-year-old New Year's Day parade to raise awareness about what has been called "The Forgotten War." It has taken decades for the success of the war's efforts to be recognized, and the department wanted to remind Americans about the sacrifices that were made by the veterans, most of whom are now in their 80s, Clark said.
The war resulted in South Korea developing into a thriving democratic ally in sharp contrast to its bitterly poor, communist neighbor, which is seen as a global threat.
"As a nation, this may be our last opportunity to say 'thank you' to them and honor their service," said Clark, director of the department's 60th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration Committee.
The war began when North Korea invaded the South to try to reunify the nation, a liberated Japanese colony sliced in two in 1945 by the U.S. and Soviet victors of World War II. The sides battled for years before ending with a stalemate.
"We didn't march home in victory. We did what we were supposed to do, which is stop this aggressive force called communism," said McEachin, a Silver Star recipient.