Amber and Leia Baum, wife and daughter of Sgt. Ryan John Baum, spend time together at their home in Gettysburg Pa., Tuesday March 18, 2008.
Amber and Leia Baum, wife and daughter of Sgt. Ryan John Baum, spend time together Tuesday at their home in Gettysburg, Pa. Baum was killed May 18 near Karmah, Iraq. "To say losing him was devastating is an understatement," Amber Baum said.
A photograph of his daughter, Leia Ryan Baum, was placed inside the uniform of Sgt. Ryan John Baum during visitation at a funeral home in June 2007. "That's all he wanted to do, is come home and put her on his chest," said Dana Baum, Sgt. Baum's mother.
Baum is pictured on his wedding day.
- The baby without the father is not quite a year old now and has dad's easy-going nature and smile.
"The baby is a joy," said grandmother Dana Baum. "Leia is the happiest thing that ever walked - or is about to walk. Then there are times when I hold her and my heart breaks because I feel so much that Ryan missed out on something spectacular."
Sgt. Ryan John Baum, a 27-year-old Army Ranger and combat medic, died from wounds he suffered during a battle near Karmah, Iraq, last May 18.
The emotional wounds have cut through the family like shrapnel. His parents say they have some good days, some bad days and are just now learning to sit down and talk about it.
And back in Pennsylvania, where Ryan's wife, Amber, cares for 10-month old Leia, hate, anger, sorrow and loss sweep over her - sometimes keeping her in bed for days.
"I guess you can say my grieving process has been very slow. He was my life. He was everything. To say losing him was devastating is an understatement," she said. "But Leia helps me get up, and she makes me smile."
Amber lives with her parents and makes regular trips to Colorado to visit Ryan's family. For her, it's a way to keep the connection to her husband alive. And when she's not visiting his family, she makes sure photos of Ryan are all over the house in Pennsylvania.
She also has a necklace with his thumbprint in it that she traces her daughter's hand over and tells her, "That's daddy."
"I always talk to her using 'we' because I want to raise her in the way Ryan would've wanted," she said. "He so much wanted to be a part of this."
The plan this spring is for her to travel with Leia to Colorado to sprinkle her husband's ashes somewhere in the mountains.
Richard Baum, Ryan's father, said even though 10 months have passed, it doesn't take much to dredge up painful memories. He said when they recovered Ryan on the battlefield, they found the ultrasound of Leia in his pocket.
"This was going to be the highlight of his life," he said. "He was crazy about the baby even then."
At the funeral - the one Amber Baum couldn't attend because she was due with Leia any day - Dana Baum said soldiers needed to "concentrate on the job at hand" and to "get your head back in the game and come home" - mostly, she said, so other families don't have to experience what they have:
To watch a daughter grow up without a father to ever hold her. For Leia to only know him through pictures, a thumbprint on a necklace or through shared stories swapped by family members.
And for Leia Ryan Baum to always wonder how things might have been instead of just sharing his name.