David M. Tapper – Petty Officer First Class, United States Navy

No. 615-03
Aug 21, 2003

DoD Identifies Navy Casualty

The Department of Defense announced today that Petty Officer First Class David M. Tapper, 32, of Camden County, New Jersey, died of wounds received in action August 20, 2003 in Afghanistan.

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, where an increasingly overlooked and vastly dangerous mission to rout the Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists grinds on.

Tapper, 32, died there Wednesday while conducting combat operations in a lawless province near the Pakistani border – an area where the military believes the terrorists are operating.

Friends here said Tapper was shot in the back during an ambush. He died later at a hospital at Bagram Air Base, the Navy said.

“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.”

A Navy spokesman declined to discuss Tapper's unit or its mission in Afghanistan.

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 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, an agent for Weichert Realtors, friends said. One sister died when she was young, they said. Judi Tapper was proud of her son's service, yet 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's family, both here and in Virginia, have shunned most requests for interviews. Some friends said the Navy has cautioned them against speaking out because of the sensitive nature of Tapper's missions.

Services will be held for him in Atco and at Arlington National Cemetery, said the Rev. Joe Beggs, pastor of Atco United Presbyterian Church. Beggs said details had not been finalized. Tapper grew up attending the Atco church, where Beggs has been pastor for 17 years. Tapper's sister said he wrote the congregants, thanking them for their prayers while he was fighting in Iraq.

“He said he and everyone in his team could feel the prayers protecting them,” Beggs said. “He's been an amazing hero for us.”

Beggs said Tapper closely guarded the secrets of his missions.

“He said, ‘Joe, don't ask me what I'm doing. Even if I was allowed tell you, you wouldn't want to know.' ”

He said 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.”

Beggs said 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 yesterday at the municipal building.

At the Atco Diner, a hub of community activity, Tapper's death dominated the conversations of a saddened lunch crowd yesterday. Owner Laurie Toussaint, who is also Waterford's mayor, talked about the death while holding a phone in one hand and serving a plate of scrapple and eggs with the other.

“It's hard to watch a family you've known for 30 years so devastated,” she said.

Tapper was the fourth Navy SEAL from the Virginia Beach area to die in Afghanistan. Many of the 1,200 SEALs based in Virginia are stationed at the Little Creek Amphibious Base.

Lieutenant John Perkins, a SEALs spokesman, and a military expert both said the missions in Afghanistan can be extremely dangerous.

As opposed to some special forces that also collect intelligence, 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.

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.

Tapper turned 32 on August 16, 2003, four days before the death that has left his family reeling.

“We got to spend quality time with him when he was home. He came down one weekend and then he surprised us and came down a second weekend,” the sister said. “He was a loving and dedicated father. He lived for his children and his wife.”

Services set for David Tapper, fallen sailor
By Troy Graham, Inquirer Staff Writer
28 August 2003

David M. Tapper, 32, an Atco native and Navy SEAL killed last week during a combat mission in Afghanistan, will be buried tomorrow with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

A memorial service is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. September 5 in the auditorium of Winslow Township High School, which was Edgewood High School when Mr. Tapper graduated in 1989. His family will receive visitors there starting at 6:30 p.m.

The Navy has planned a private memorial service for Mr. Tapper today at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he was stationed.

The husband and father of four died Aug. 20 after he was shot near Orgun in Paktika province. A member of an elite SEAL team, he was conducting combat operations in the lawless province, Navy officials said. He died at a hospital at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

His family said he had been shot in the back during an ambush.

Mr. Tapper, a high school wrestler, joined the Navy shortly after graduation. In 1991, he completed SEAL training in San Diego and spent 12 of his 13 years in the military with the SEALs, a special forces arm of the Navy.

He was listed as a Photographer's Mate First Class Oetty Officer. He had received numerous awards and commendations, including the Joint Service Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

Mr. Tapper served in Afghanistan shortly after the September 11 attacks, and spent two months this year fighting in Iraq, his family and friends said. Mr. Tapper took part in the rescue of wounded American POW Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital, then helped recover the bodies of nine U.S. soldiers buried there, they said.

He was called back to the fighting in Afghanistan this summer, his family said.

“David fought a good fight and accomplished his mission in life,” one of his sisters said last week. “We know that he is in heaven, and it was the Lord's will to take him there.”

Mr. Tapper is survived by his wife, Tracey; their children, Raimen, Vanessa, Talia and Jared; his mother, Judith, and her husband, George Youngkin; his father, Ken, and his wife, Dot; grandparents Pete and Edith Claypoole; and sisters Judi Dowell, Ruth Berwick, Brenda Banes and Diana Hicks.

Donations to a fund for Mr. Tapper's wife and children can be made to Atco United Presbyterian Church, 2259 Atco Avenue, Atco, New Jersey 08004. Checks should be made payable to the church, but marked for the Tapper Memorial Fund in the memo portion.

US soldier killed in Afghanistan
August 23, 2003

A U.S. special operations soldier has been killed in action in eastern Afghanistan, the US military said yesterday, while in a neighbouring province coalition troops arrested four people and seized weapons stored in caves by insurgents.

The soldier died from wounds after operations near Orgun in Paktika province on Wednesday, a statement on the US military Central Command website said.

The Department of Defense identified him as Navy Petty Officer 1st Class David M. Tapper, 32, of Camden County, New Jersey.

On Thursday, U.S. military in Afghanistan announced that another coalition soldier had been slightly injured by a bomb while on patrol in the same region on the same day. It was not immediately clear whether the two incidents were linked.

About 11,500 troops of the US-led coalition are in Afghanistan hunting down remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and their allies.

Virginia-based Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan
Thursday August 21, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia. The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed Thursday that a Virginia-based Navy SEAL was killed in combat in Afghanistan.

David M. Tapper, 32, a Navy photographer's mate first class petty officer, was wounded on Wednesday after his convoy encountered enemy forces near Orgun, in Paktika Province. He died later that day at a hospital at Bagram Air Base, Navy spokesman Lieutenant John Perkins said.

Tapper, a 13-year Navy SEAL veteran based in Virginia Beach, was in Afghanistan conducting operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Navy said.

Originally from Camden County, New Jersey, Tapper enlisted in November 1989 and graduated from SEAL training in San Diego in 1991.

A man answering the phone at Tapper's Virginia Beach residence Thursday evening declined to comment.


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 11/27/1989 – 08/20/2003
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 08/16/1971
  • DATE OF DEATH: 08/20/2003
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 08/29/2003


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