On October 20, David Toma received the Four Chaplains’ Gold Medal at the Coast Guard Academy in Cape May, New Jersey. It is supported by the Vietnam Veterans Association of America. Even though Toma is now 86 years old, he gave an inspiring 30-minute speech.
David Toma was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1933. He was the youngest of twelve children, the son of an Italian immigrant tailor and a mother who was a Pentecostal missionary. Growing up in New Jersey, David was a top high school athlete and excelled in all forms of sports. He joined The United States Marine Corps where he endured the tough and rigorous training of the Corps of the mid-1950s. Never deterred by the toughness of the training or the injuries that came along with it, David went on to become a Marine boxing champ and was named outstanding Marine at Parris Island boot camp.
Upon his discharge from the Marine Corps, Toma was signed to a minor league baseball contract as a pitcher and played with some of the biggest names in baseball. However, deciding that the responsibility of supporting his family was more important, David put his dream of being a major league baseball player aside.
In 1956, Toma joined the Newark police force, where he later became a detective on the vice, narcotics and gambling squad. Working as a police officer and detective on the mean streets of Newark, David experienced first-hand the great struggles many people faced with addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Seeing and interacting with thousands of people whose lives were being destroyed, David felt a burning desire to do something about it. He studied everything he could about the effects of narcotics and alcohol and combined it with what he learned in the streets as an undercover detective.
As early as the 1950s, Toma began speaking to groups and audiences about the dangers of drugs and alcohol use. With his passion to save lives, he became an outspoken crusader against drug and alcohol abuse.
David and his wife Pat suffered a tragic blow in the early 1960s with the death of their five-year-old son, David Jr. In an almost unbelievable twist of fate, the boy’s death happened only minutes after Toma, while on duty as a police officer, had saved the life of a young boy who was choking. The pain of losing his young son threw David into a deep state of depression and led to his own battle with addiction to prescription medication. Toma was able to turn his struggle around and harness his emotional trials for further use of his God-given gift of helping people.
During this time, while a police detective, Toma made thousands of arrests, while never once firing his gun. Throughout his law enforcement career, he was hospitalized numerous times including injuries sustained from being shot and stabbed. He compiled an astounding conviction rate of 98 percent. He learned to infiltrate drug gangs, often by disguising himself.
Intrigued by his amazing real life, the ABC television network developed and aired a television series based on David’s life. The television series was called “Toma” and ran for one season. The following year, the series was re-named “Baretta.” The show starred actor Robert Blake and ran for six seasons.
Toma retired from the Newark police department and started to lecture full time all over the country in the mid-1970s. His passion to spread the true word about the serious dangers of drugs and alcohol would only grow from there. His style of lecturing would grip audiences from the moment he began to talk. Often, teenagers and adults alike would weep while he shared his countless experiences of the devastation that drugs and alcohol brought to individuals and families.
To date, Dave has given over 15,000 lectures and has reached millions with his message. He has received countless awards and honors by some of the most prominent and influential organizations and associations in the world. Among the many awards that he has received are several honorary PhDs. He has been presented with the Humanitarian Award at Columbus Hospital in his hometown of Newark and was named The World’s Greatest Cop” by the Police Benevolence Association. He was named Man of the Year by Boys Town of Italy and is member of the Italian American International Hall of Fame.
In 2004, David Toma was presented with the Four Chaplains Award presented by the Vietnam Veterans of America and the White House. He has always considered this to be among the most prestigious awards that he has received since it came from the Vietnam Veterans. Now his award status has been elevated to an even higher echelon by receiving the Four Chaplains Gold Medal. The Italian Tribune extends its congratulations to David Toma, a true Marine, a legendary police detective and an inspiration to millions.