PARKER, Colo. Little Leia Ryan Baum had a message for the father she never got to meet: "I'm here, Daddy, now sleep in peace. You're my hero and I'll forever love you."
Those were the words written on a card with the picture of the 8-day-old girl, a tribute to her father, Sgt. Ryan Baum, who died in Iraq on May 18, 11 days before she was born.
Several hundred people gathered Tuesday at Southeast Christian Church in Parker to honor the 27-year-old Army Ranger medic who was killed by a sniper.
Some who attended the service remembered a person they said had grown from a kid who defied authority into a man who soldiers on the front lines counted on.
"I was so naive to what my brother did and the impact my brother had," said Baum's sister, Mande Nantkes. "I love you. I miss you. We are so proud of the man you became."
Baum, serving with the 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska, was supposed to have been back on leave when his wife, Amber, gave birth. But he volunteered for one last mission in Iraq because he didn't want to let his fellow soldiers down.
"He was that rare breed of soldier who placed duty and sacrifice above his own needs and wants," said Brig. Gen. Anne Macdonald of Fort Carson.
Gov. Bill Ritter was among those in attendance, a crowd that included family, friends and members of the Army. Baum was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
During the service, pictures of Baum were shown while music played in the background. Football, baseball, lacrosse, camping, family gatherings and defending his country were among his passions.
Family and community were important to the Baums. Ryan Baum grew up on South Ouray Way, the same house in which his parents still live. His brother, Jason, lives across the street. Baum graduated from Smoky Hill High School in 1997.
"He was not only my brother, he was my friend," Jason Baum said. "In my passing, it would be a privilege to be considered half the man that Ryan was."
Ryan Baum's lifelong friend, Andrea Price, recalled growing up with him on the same block, the two separated in age by six months. When she moved a few blocks away, then later went on to college, they kept in touch.
When Price's father passed away, Baum showed up with his tool belt to fix a project her father didn't get to finish.
"He was my first friend, my first crush," Price said.
A video Baum made and sent to his family for Christmas was played at the service. It showed the cramped quarters he and his mates shared in Iraq, along with pictures of Baum working on wounded soldiers and a small Christmas tree the troops had secured.
And he sent home a holiday message for his family: "I love you and miss you and I'll see you soon."
Following the service, he was honored by a 21-gun salute. His parents, Dana and Richard Baum, were given the flag that draped his coffin.
"I love my son," Baum's father said. "I'm real proud of him."