ATCO, NJ, USA U.S. Navy PO1, COMNAVSPECWARDEVGRU DAM NECK, VA AFGHANISTAN 08/20/2003
Often called upon to conduct the most harrowing missions, Tapper took part in the April rescue of wounded POW Jessica Lynch, then helped recover the bodies of nine American soldiers buried near the Iraqi hospital where she was held, according to friends and the Tapper family.
After serving in Iraq for two months, Tapper, a father of four, returned to Camden County for a visit during a six-week leave in early summer. Tapper, who had spent most of his 13-year naval career as a SEAL, was reluctant to return to the war zone. “He said it was too soon,” said a sister, who spoke for the family. “He wanted to stay with his children and spend more time with his family in Atco.”
But, duty called again last month, this time sending him to Afghanistan, on an increasingly overlooked and vastly dangerous mission to rout Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists.
“David fought a good fight and accomplished his mission in life,” said the sister, who asked not to be identified by name. “We know that he is in Heaven and it was the Lord’s will to take him there.”
Tapper’s wife and four children live in Virginia Beach, Va., where his unit was stationed, but he has a large family in the Atco, NJ area, where he grew up and graduated from Edgewood High School in 1989. The youngest of six children – and the only boy – Tapper was extremely close with his mother, Judi. Judi Tapper was proud of her son’s service, and devastated by the loss of the family protector.
“We grew up with him protecting his mother and sisters,” one sister said. “Then he grew up to protect his country.”
Tapper was a “lively kid” who came from a religious family. Tapper’s sister said, “God’s hand kept him safe when he was in Iraq.” Tapper also had fought in Afghanistan shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Waterford Township, which includes Atco, was already awash in patriotism, with military families displaying banners furnished by the local American Legion post in their windows. The flag at the municipal building was lowered to half-staff.
SEALs are designated almost primarily for combat, said Anthony Cordesman, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Tapper was listed as a Photographer’s Mate First Class Petty Officer, but Cordesman said, “titles are meaningless” in the SEAL teams.
Tapper enlisted in the Navy after high school, in November 1989, with the intention of making the highly competitive SEAL teams, friends said. He graduated from SEAL training in San Diego in 1991.
He met his wife, Tracy, in California, said Tapper’s sister. The couple had two boys and two girls, ages 3, 5, 8 and 11.
“He was a loving and dedicated father. He lived for his children and his wife.”
While overseas on missions, his family had no way to contact him, either through mail or by phone. But Tapper had called his wife and children on Sunday and Monday. One of his sisters was visiting then and spoke to him – for the last time.