McVeigh: Soldier Turned Terrorist

Timothy McVeigh wasn't always at war with his government. Not too long ago, the quiet young man from upstate New York risked his life for his country, earning a Bronze Star in the Gulf War.

But when McVeigh took his final breath this morning on a prison gurney in Terre Haute, Ind., at the age of 33, he did so as a self-described "freedom fighter" in a lonely battle against the government. In the end, he expressed shades of regret for the 168 lives he took, but remained unrepentant for the bombing itself.

The admitted mastermind of the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil made no final statement at his execution. But in recent letters to newspapers and statements to reporters, McVeigh expressed bedrock confidence in his belief that his murderous act was righteous, somehow.

In a particularly stunning passage from the book American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh & The Oklahoma City Bombing, the bomber actually refers to the 19 children killed in the blast as "collateral damage."

In a letter printed on Saturday in his hometown newspaper, McVeigh described the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building as a "legit tactic."

Placing blame for his horrific crime squarely on the federal government, McVeigh only managed a tinge of remorse.

"I am sorry these people had to lose their lives," McVeigh wrote to The Buffalo News. "But that's the nature of the beast. It's understood going in what the human toll will be."

After McVeigh's death by lethal injection today, his attorney Robert Nigh said McVeigh simply could not pretend he was sorry for what he did. "To the victims in Oklahoma City, I say that I am sorry that I could not successfully help Tim to express words of reconciliation that he did not perceive to be dishonest," Nigh said.

A Model Soldier

This chillingly indifferent Timothy McVeigh seems nothing less than a complete stranger to those who knew him growing up in his conservative, rural hometown of Pendleton, N.Y., near Buffalo.

Tim was the second of three children, born in 1968 to Bill and Mildred "Mickey" McVeigh. Like his father before him, Bill McVeigh worked at a local General Motors radiator factory. When Tim was just a boy, Mickey left home, taking his two sisters with her.

Young Tim stayed in Pendleton with his dad.

Former classmates and neighbors often describe McVeigh as quiet, withdrawn and a bright but not extraordinary student.

At 18, McVeigh enrolled in a computer school near Buffalo but dropped out after a few months. After a two-year stint doing odd jobs, McVeigh enrolled in the U.S. Army where he met and befriended Terry Nichols, who would later help McVeigh carry out the bombing of the federal building.

Former army colleagues describe both men as being absorbed in the mundane details of army life, from the polished boots to the pressed uniforms. McVeigh was in essence, a model soldier.

He was eventually promoted to the rank of sergeant and earned a Combat Infantry Badge and a Bronze Star for his service in the Persian Gulf War. After an unsuccessful attempt to join the elite Green Berets, however, McVeigh sought a discharge and returned home.

By all accounts, this failure was a turning point in McVeigh's life. He was becoming more isolated, extremist in his political views and obsessed with guns.

The Final Straw

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