McEachin is an actor now, better known for his TV roles on courtroom shows and private eye dramas than for his military stint. "But there's never been a greater honor for me than to say I served this country," he said.
And representing his comrades in the Rose Parade? "It doesn't get any better than this."
There was more hugging and picture-taking going on than decorating when I stopped by the float Friday morning.
With the Korean American contingent according them rock-star status, the elderly veterans — wearing shiny boots and freshly pressed uniforms, with medals and ribbons pinned to their chests — drew a steady stream of strangers offering thanks.
I was embarrassed, as I listened to their stories, to realize how much I didn't know. They were young men who had signed up or been drafted, never imagining they would go to war. They survived unimaginable horrors and came home to silently shoulder the burden of what is still nicknamed "the forgotten war."
Many were unwitting pioneers, the first minorities to fight in our country's newly integrated armed forces.
"We wound up integrating the barracks in Korea," recalled McEachin, who had been assigned at enlistment to an all-black regiment. "There was lots of tension.… It was hard on all of us. But once we got into the trenches, you didn't see color, you didn't think color. We were all just soldiers."
For many, the war was an abrupt shove from adolescence to manhood.
"Nobody even knew where Korea was," said Robert Castillo, who was born in East L.A. and enlisted because the vets returning home from World War II "looked so good with their shiny boots."
"It seemed pretty exciting at 19," he said. Castillo thought he would wind up on a military base in Germany or Japan. Instead, he parachuted behind enemy lines in Korea, where he earned a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for bravery.
When Cpl. Castillo was shot and rotated out, his paratrooper comrades urged him to "go home and tell them what's going on over here," he said. But "nobody wanted to hear it."
Still, Castillo said he wasn't surprised by the elderly Korean Americans who showed up at the float to volunteer. "They have always been grateful. It's exciting to me that these people never forget," he said.
A local Korean American group sponsors free visits to Korea for veterans, but Castillo, 82, had never wanted to go back. He relented four years ago, he said, "because my wife was curious."
The trip provided a sort of validation that Castillo, now a military chaplain, never realized he needed.
When he looked out his window as the airplane made a nighttime landing, "I saw South Korea lit up like Las Vegas, and North Korea all dark, black," he said.
"There were skyscrapers, freeways … in a city that had been in shambles the last time I saw it." It made him proud, he said, to realize "what we helped accomplish."
And although he won't be riding the float, he will be cheering it on. "The recognition matters," he said.
Castillo presides at old soldiers' funerals almost every month. "We're running out of time," he said. "This float is for veterans who can't be there, but need to know they're not forgotten."