Ryan Means was so gung-ho about the military, he ripped out a recruitment card from a magazine, filled it out and mailed it in.
A few days later, two Marine Corps officers knocked on his parent's door in Atlanta, ready to enlist their son. His mother, Mary Jo, sent the officers away.
After all, her son was only 9.
Young Means revered the armed services. As a kid growing up in Atlanta, he'd frequently don fatigues. At Halloween, he packed heat as G.I. Joe. And every day, he and younger brother Michael would dig foxholes in the back yard, filling it with plastic guns, knives, nunchucks and gas masks.
"It's like we were preparing for World War III," Michael Means quipped.
In first grade, young Means formed a lasting friendship with Adam White at Christ the King School, said older brother Tommy Means. As young adults, they were fraternity brothers, roommates and climbing partners while students at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Mr. Means left Colorado to return to Georgia, graduating from the University of Georgia in 1997. He then took a job with BellSouth in Atlanta before moving to New York City in 1999, where he and Mr. White continued their thirst for adventure.
Mr. White was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center. So in 2003, Mr. Means —- with his best friend's initials tattooed on his rib cage —- enlisted in the Army. He was two months shy of his 31st birthday.
"He was not going to sit by idly and not do anything," friend Josh Cobb said. "The choice to join the Army was something he thought about his entire life."
Staff Sgt. Ryan Patman Means, 35, of Clarksville, Tenn., died Tuesday in New York City after cancer surgery. The funeral will be 10 a.m. Monday at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. H.M. Patterson & Son funeral home is handling arrangements.
Throughout his life, Mr. Means never backed down from a challenge, his three brothers said. He took on boys twice his size at summer camp in Tallulah Falls. He biked more than 100 miles across Ireland. He camped in a bivouac in a snowstorm near the summit of Mount Rainier in Washington.
"He pushed his body as hard as he could at all times," brother Tommy Means said.
Brother Michael Means called his older sibling an inspiration.
Although he lived life hard, he laughed even harder, his brothers said. And sometimes, that meant pulling pranks.
At his older brother Alfie's wedding rehearsal dinner in 2002, Mr. Means delivered an unusual toast. He cranked up Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" and danced.
"It was as if a choreographer for a boy band was dancing," Tommy Means chuckled. "He did a split at the end and tore his pants."
One Halloween while a UGA student, Mr. Means donned a hockey mask, wrote "Boo" on his buttocks and rode his bicycle around campus naked.
Alfie Means said he'll remember his brother's resolve. He went into the Army as a recruit, not an officer, even though he was a college graduate. At age 33, he advanced to the Special Forces, also known as Green Berets.
Mr. Cobb, who will deliver the eulogy for his best friend, said the world has lost a special person. "If you said the name Ryan Means to anyone who knew him . . . a smile or a laugh would emerge immediately," he said.
Additional survivors include wife Heather Means and daughters Elizabeth and Sophie Means, of Clarksville, Tenn.; and parents Al and Mary Jo Means of Atlanta.
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