By MADDY VITALE
Nineteen years have passed since Judi Tapper’s only son, David M. Tapper, died while serving his country as a Navy seal.
Tapper was killed in combat in 2003 while serving in Afghanistan. He was 32. He left behind a wife and four children.
On Thursday, Sea Isle City, where Tapper and his family vacationed for so many years, was one of the communities in Cape May County that hosted the Run for the Fallen.
Judi Tapper, of Atco, N.J., her boyfriend, William Jarrard, and her daughter, Diana Hicks, of Virginia, awaited the military members from Joint Base McGuire/Dix/Lakehurst and other locations, who were stopping to honor the family of the fallen Navy Seal.
“It means so much to our family. There are so many people who are so dedicated to this run,” Tapper, who has five grown daughters, said while standing alongside her daughter, Diana, who held a flag that read: “Remember,” while awaiting the runners.
The Tapper family and other supporters came out to remember the military man who died so long ago, but will not be forgotten.
The family stood at 89th Street and Landis Avenue, across from a street sign dedicated by the city in May to the memory of David Tapper for his heroism.
The street had particular significance for the Tappers because they vacationed at 110 89th Street, Judi Tapper’s grandparents’ home, for many years. And it was a place David Tapper loved.
Despite a deluge of rain that pelted the streets of Sea Isle, the runners came. They came to pay respects. They came to honor a fallen soldier who gave his life for freedom.
“It’s an honor that people come out and still remember him after all of these years,” Hicks said.
The Run Team presented a flag and a personalized biographical card to the Tappers. They saluted the family and said that although David Tapper is gone, he will never be forgotten.
Dignitaries, including Sea Isle Mayor Leonard Desiderio, attended the ceremony. He gave Judi Tapper a big hug.
Each of the 195 miles service members do as part of the Run for the Fallen is dedicated to a fallen New Jersey hero and their Gold Star Family, like the Tapper family.
Judi Tapper formerly served for nine years as the president of the New Jersey Gold Star Mothers, part of a national organization of mothers whose sons or daughters died in the line of duty in military service.
Hicks, one of David Tapper’s sisters, recalled the fondness she and her brother shared of vacationing in Sea Isle City.
“Sea Isle was a special place for my brother and my other siblings,” Hicks said.
She surprised her mother by driving up from Virginia Beach for the Run for the Fallen ceremony.
“The fact that they dedicated a street in my brother’s honor is such a moving tribute to him,” she added
Prior to the Run Team’s arrival, Tapper pulled out two collages she had safely tucked in the back of her SUV so that they did not get wet from the heavy rain showers Thursday afternoon.
One of the photo collages was filled with photos of David Tapper as a loving father and husband. There are photos in the collage of him kissing one of his children. There is another of a family outing and a photo of his wedding day.
Tapper also pulled out a photo collage of her son in his other capacity in life, as a Navy Seal. As a Navy Seal, he was one of the few, as an elite member of the military specializing in dangerous missions.
“Never forget my baby boy,” Tapper said, with her voice choked with emotion.
Another fallen service member has a Sea Isle street named in his honor. A portion of 46th Street is named in honor of another fallen service member, Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz. He was a Sea Isle summer resident who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism during the Vietnam War.
Sea Isle City also has four other markers in town for six fallen service members. The Run Team was scheduled to make stops at all of the markers.
The other fallen service members were Richard Torres, Adam D. Froehlich, Anthony J. Dixon and Jarred J. Crowley.
For a complete list of the Hero Markers throughout Cape May County, visit www.njrun.org