A few days ahead of his 92nd birthday, World War II veteran Edmund Rusinek celebrated by picking up $1,500 worth of meals for active-duty service members and their families at a Chick-fil-A in Rossmoor, California, the Orange County Register reported.
It wasn't the first time Rusinek has done this, and he said it wouldn't be the last.
"This tradition, so to speak, got started in 1945 when I was a draftee training in Little Rock, Arkansas. To take a break from the GI food, some of my buddies and I left the base for some good ol' Southern food," he told the newspaper. "At the restaurant, an elderly gentleman stepped up to us and asked, 'Can you do me a favor? Will you let me buy your lunch? If you want to thank me, pass it down.'"
What's the story?
Rusinek, whose birthday is Tuesday, told the Register that he's been "passing it down" ever since he started his engineering career at North American Aviation in the late 1940s. NAA became part of North American Rockwell, which became Rockwell International and eventually part of Boeing.
The Army veteran and his wife, Krystyna, live in Rossmoor, which sits between the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos and the Naval Weapons Station in Seal Beach.
On Feb. 8, Rusinek stopped by the Chick-fil-A where he gave the manager a wad of cash along with the instructions to pay for service members and their families meals.
"A lot of military people and their families go there. I want them to know that someone cares," he said. "There are lots of kids in the military around here, and they all look so young to me."
Edmund Rusinek visits with military members at the Chick-fil-A in Rossmoor, California.Image source: Myhighplains.com video screenshot
The nonagenarian, who's originally from Detroit, was drafted during his freshman year in college at the University of Michigan. Rusinek spent two years as a staff sergeant at the Czechoslovakian border during World War II.
He recalled "the feeling of being a long way from home and family."
"Back then, towns would throw Saturday night dances for servicemen stationed there so they could get off base to socialize," Rusinek explained. "There's nothing lonelier than training camp on weekends."
Things are different these days, he added.
"Everyone is too busy with their own lives," Rusinek said. "The only thing the kids have around here is the American Legion, and that's a bunch of old geezers like me."
After the store manager Giola Arkis used up the cash, Rusinek gave her permission to begin ringing up additional meals on his credit card.
"Edmund is a regular customer," Arkis told the Register. "He always comes in for a salad, cookies and coffee. We call him our local sweet thing."
Rusinek also spent several hours visiting with the service members at the restaurant.
"Everybody was so happy," Arkis added.
Arkis has estimated that Rusinek spent about $1,500 on the kind gesture.
"Really? I guess I'll know for sure when I get my credit card bill in the mail," said Rusinek, who retired 17 years ago from Boeing. "I'm not a rich man — but this, I can afford."
Edmund Rusinek shows receipts from some of the meals he bought for military members.Image source: Myhighplains.com video screenshot