Toby Bowden — Marine, Overcomer, Hero


I first met Toby Bowden several years ago in a courtroom. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Toby had run into some legal trouble and, rather than being run through the normal court system, he was placed in Veteran’s Court.

The court was established in Coweta County and was patterned after the already existent Drug Court which worked with non-violent offenders who had alcohol or substance abuse issues that had contributed to their unlawful acts. It offered a way for offenders to enter a program to get clean and sober and was an alternative to jail time.

I was very familiar with Drug Court and, when the Veteran’s Court, officially the Coweta County Veteran Treatment Court, was established, I was asked to be a mentor coordinator.

Why a special court for veterans? At any one time, only 1% of the population of the United States is serving in the military. In our modern society, the country can be at war — as it has been for most of the last 50-60 years — but life for the general population goes on as though there is no war at all.

It was reported that, during the desert wars, when a journalist queried a Marine about how he felt about his country being at war, he said, “The country is not at war. The Marines are at war. The country is at the mall.”

It is well known that many military personnel have experienced war, death, trauma, and anguish unimaginable to non-military types. When a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine is discharged, they sometimes bring with them an addiction to alcohol or drugs. Or, if they suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they may try to self-medicate to cope with what they have seen and experienced, which can have terrible results. This may lead to the veteran committing illegal acts.

That’s not an excuse for bad behavior but it does serve as an explanation for some situations. Some veterans commit suicide — about 22 each and every day.

Drug Court was established to attempt to help those who had served their country honorably, and had troubles after returning to civilian life, to recover their lives and get back on a healthy and successful track.

One of the most memorable things I witnessed in attending drug court on many occasions was the respect and dignity shown to those violators who came before the judge. He always honored their service and sacrifice, as did the staff, and, while there were both rewards and punishments possible, that respect was always shown.

And that is where I met and talked several times to Toby Bowden. I didn’t know what exactly had brought him to drug court and it didn’t matter. He was there for a second chance at life, and he was determined not to waste it or treat it lightly.

He was serious about leaving whatever his addiction was behind him and in building a successful business. He was operating a towing and wrecker service. Toby was a model participant and successfully completed the program. As a Coweta County newspaper recently reported, Jennifer Barnett described Toby as “One of our brightest success stories.”

He was so successful that he became a Veteran’s Court mentor, helping other troubled veterans to work through their problems and get back on their feet. Barnett said of him, “He could have gotten a job anywhere. He’s persistent, reliable, and never looked for a shortcut.” His business success reflected that work ethic. Life kept looking up as Toby and his fiance set a wedding date for September of this year.

Toby was assisting with a car crash last Wednesday morning on the side of the road on I-85 when he was killed by a 31-year-old man who, in a terrible irony, is suspected of driving under the influence (DUI).

The driver has been arrested on a number of serious charges, including first degree vehicular homicide. Toby has been described as “selfless, a caretaker, a protector of his family and ‘someone you could call … day or night, and he’d be there.’”

He was also a man who served his family, built a successful business, a Marine who served his country, and a man who overcame his demons. An unofficial motto of the Marine Corps is “improvise, adapt, and overcome.” Toby lived out that motto and then helped others to do the same. If that’s not a hero, then I don’t know what one is.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King ( Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South ( He may be contacted at]