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FL veteran honors late father by picking up the tab for 137 people

Combat Cafe owner Bruce Chambers is pictured with David King, a regular customer and son of the late Vinny King, who the Vinny’s SOS is named after. In honor of his father, David paid for every customer’s meal on Dec. 7, one year after his father passed away. [Cindy Sharp/Correspondent]

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Vincent (Vinny) King, a local World War II Navy veteran who touched the lives of many around him.

As an act of kindness in honor of his father, David King paid for every customer’s meal Saturday at the Combat Cafe in Eustis, his father’s favorite diner. It amounted to 137 meals totaling more than $1,300.

“It was just something I really felt like I wanted to do in honor of not only my father, but every veteran, service member, first responder and anyone that gives their lives for others,” David said. “They call it paying it forward. He meant a lot to the people here. He was a good man and this was my way of showing him respect and honor.”

Guests dine at Combat Cafe in Eustis. [Cindy Sharp/Correspondent]

Vinny enlisted in the Navy one day before his 18th birthday in 1941, and just six days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Less than a week after he joined, Vinny found himself in combat.

The following June, he was miraculously one of the few survivors from the USS Gannet, which was torpedoed in the Atlantic. A plane spotted him and although ordered not to land, they dared 30-foot swells and picked up 22 survivors, including Vinny.

“He was wounded in that attack and received a purple heart, but went on to serve for 23 years after that,” David said. “He would tell us stories of how it took weeks to get the oil off his skin, but that it was the only thing that saved him from the sharks. Over the years he received numerous commendations then retired in 1988.”

Vinny King and owner Beth Chambers smile for a photo at Combat Cafe in Eustis. [Submitted] Cindy Sharp

Combat Cafe owners Bruce and Beth Chambers first met Vinny while working at Lisa’s Kitchen before opening their own cafe.

“My fond memories of Vinny are the way he would greet me with ‘hiya sweetheart’ and I always gave him a kiss hello or goodbye,” Beth said. “He sent us a card for our wedding and was rooting for us since the beginning of our adventures.”

When the Chambers opened Combat Cafe, they decided to honor Vinny by naming his favorite meal after him on their menu – Vinny’s SOS.

“His smile could light up a room and they (Vinny and David) quickly went from regulars to friends,” Bruce said. “Sadly Vinny passed last year at the age of 94, on the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. We were supportive of him and he was supportive of us and it was a beautiful thing. His spirit lives on in many ways. Giving back to others was always his thing and we want to keep that ball rolling.”

On Saturday, every table had a note explaining that their meal had been paid for in honor of “Vinny’s Day.”

“We are thankful you made it here to exactly this moment,” the note read. “Be grateful for the time we have left and live each day to its fullest, in honor of those woh have gone before us. Thank you Dave for your generosity, we love and miss Vinny every day. He is and will always be a part of this mission.”


© 2019 The Florida Times-Union