Pat Toro was a soldier, both on the battlefields of Vietnam and on the political front lines when it came to veterans’ affairs.
On Friday, he died the same way he lived.
A decorated former U.S. Marine and Forest Hills resident, Toro succumbed to myelodysplastic syndrome, a form of leukemia, after a nine-month battle with the disease.
He was 65.
The former Vietnam Veterans of America, Queens Chapter 32 president was remembered at his wake in Middle Village Tuesday evening by Juan Medina, his brother-in-law, as a man who immeasurably impacted his life for the better.
“I was headed down the wrong path when I was younger. He pulled me aside and told me to do something positive with my life and join the Marine Corps,” Medina said. “I joined the Army instead, but that talk changed my life and made me the man I am today. I owe him a lot.”
Toro enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1967 and was stationed in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. For his service, he was awarded the National Defense Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with four stars, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and the Vietnam Civil Action Medal for his service.
However, it is believed his illness was caused by exposure to Agent Orange, a chemical used by the American military to defoliate vegetation during the war.
The compound has since been linked to various cancers in veterans and birth defects in their children conceived after they returned home, while the Vietnamese government claims nearly 5 million of its citizens were exposed, resulting in 400,000 deaths.
Upon his return stateside, Toro briefly worked as a city correction officer and police officer before serving as an investigator for the Port Authority for 13 years.
He retired in 1991 and became an active member of Chapter 32. He became the chapter’s president in 2001, serving in that role until 2010.
Chapter 32 President Paul Narson remembered Toro as a man who fought vigorously for the rights of his fellow soldiers.
“He was a veteran’s veteran. He fought for veterans and dedicated the last 10 or so years of his life to veterans affairs,” Narson said. “He was tough. When he wanted something, he fought for it.”
VVA Suffolk County Chapter 11 member Bill Torres and his wife, Barbara, met Toro at a Vietnam veterans convention 15 years ago and he still remembers one of their first interactions.
“We hit it off. I’m an Army guy and he was in the Marines, so we always went back and forth. That’s how we had our fun,” he said. “I called him my big brother. My nickname is Toro, so we had that in common too.”
“He was always such a nice guy. Very personable,” she said. “He was so involved in anything to do with veterans, so we always worked alongside Pat.”
Toro, a member of the New York State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame, was buried Wednesday at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island.
Borough President Melinda Katz also mourned Toro’s death in a statement, describing his service to the nation as courageous.
“It was an honor to have known Pat Toro, and I can say with certainty that he will be remembered as a leader, a humanitarian and an American hero,” Katz said.
Despite Toro’s being known as a tough fighter for his fellow veterans, whom he called his brothers, Medina, now a New York City firefighter, remembers the warm, loving side of his brother-in-law.
“I know the cliche is used too much, but I’m serious when I say he would give you the shirt off his back. He was that kind of guy,” he said. “He was a father figure to me. I’ll always remember him arguing with me over why I joined the Army instead of the Marines. We would always bust each other’s chops over that.
“I’m going to miss him.”