Posted: 8/25/2004 5:08:22 AM EST
Year's Work Salutes Sacrifice Of SEAL
August 21, 2004
An already difficult year for the family of David M. Tapper, an only son and a father of four killed last year in Afghanistan, was tested this week by two trying milestones:
Monday would have been the Atco native's 33d birthday, and yesterday was one year to the day when he was gunned down during a firefight with al-Qaeda.
"We're all a bunch of basket cases this week," said Tapper's sister Ruth Berwick. "Being the only son, he was the king of the family."
Through it all, Tapper's friends and family have found solace in working to memorialize his service - and that of all veterans in this small community of Waterford Township, Camden County.
After several months of work, family and friends unveiled a granite monument last night at a ceremony that honored the elite warrior - a Navy SEAL who never talked about his missions and never bragged about his fighting prowess.
"My brother was such a humble man. I found out things about him at his memorial that I never knew about. He never brought it home," Berwick said. "I don't think he'd be surprised that we're doing it, but he wouldn't have expected it."
The monument, which features engravings of the SEAL trident and the numerous medals Tapper was awarded, including two Bronze Stars, will be on display at the Atco American Legion, alongside memorials to township veterans from every war in the last century.
In addition to honoring Tapper, yesterday's ceremony served as a dedication for a refurbished war memorial park on the Legion's grounds. Much of the work was organized and performed by a group of Tapper's friends and family.
"It's been something we've been able to throw our energy into," Berwick said.
Herb Toussaint, the Legion commander, said the old war memorial was expanded from about 2,500 square feet to 4,000 square feet.
Tapper's parents donated a gazebo.
His wife, Tracy, donated a flagpole. Three of Tapper's children raised new U.S. and POW/MIA flags yesterday, while his 9-year-old daughter read the poem "Old Glory" before a crowd more than 100 strong.
"You really can't compare it to anything," Toussaint said. "People wouldn't believe it if they hadn't seen it before."
Tapper, a 13-year Navy veteran, served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
The Rev. Joseph Beggs, the Tapper family pastor, read a note at the ceremony from Tapper's commander, describing the SEAL as fighting "like a lion" against an al-Qaeda ambush before taking a bullet to the back.
The commander said Tapper's actions that day undoubtedly saved the lives of his teammates.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R., N.J.) told the crowd that he recently toured a SEAL training base in Virginia Beach, Va., where Tapper was stationed.
"I learned that there are Navy SEALs, and then there are Navy SEAL Team Six members," he said of the elite unit. "That's what David was."
Donna Iuliucci, who grew up next door to Tapper, helped coordinate the monument effort.
"My main thing is that I want to take my son there and tell him about this man and all he did," she said.
Iuliucci also spoke about all the work donated by contractors and performed by volunteers.
"It was definitely a community effort that went beyond our expectations," she said. "David was very proud of Atco. He left to join the service, but Atco was home."
The group of friends and family raised $26,000, and companies provided as much as $30,000 in free services. Iuliucci said she called one company, American Lawn Irrigation, about doing some work at the site.
"When I contacted them, I said, 'Can you give me a price?' " she recalled. "The guy said [Tapper] already paid the price."