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Former classmates and neighbors often describe McVeigh as quiet, withdrawn and a bright but not extraordinary student.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

By 1993, just two years before the Oklahoma City bombing, McVeigh had moved to Kingman, Ariz., where his Army buddy Michael Fortier lived. There, his fascination with extremist paramilitary groups grew.

Among his favorite reading material during this period was the novel The Turner Diaries. The book, widely disseminated on the Internet and written by a notorious neo-Nazi, describes a hero figure who loads a truck with explosives made of fertilizer and fuel and explodes it at FBI headquarters.

McVeigh was angered by gun control legislation and incensed by the deadly 1992 raid on white supremacist Randy Weaver's cabin in Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

But it was the siege at Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993, that burned in McVeigh's mind and fueled his twisted war against the federal government. When the Branch Davidians' compound burned after a standoff with federal agents, McVeigh's mission was clear.

He later told his father that Waco was "the final straw."

Around 9 a.m., two years to the day after 80 died at Waco, McVeigh parked a rented Ryder truck in front of the Murrah building and walked away shortly before it exploded with such force that it was felt 80 miles away.

Within 75 minutes of the blast, McVeigh was pulled over during a routine traffic stop and taken into custody. He had been driving without a license plate and was carrying a concealed firearm. His T-shirt that day was emblazoned with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "The Tree of Liberty must from time to time be refreshed with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

In 1997, McVeigh was convicted in the bombing and sentenced to death. Nichols was later sent to prison for life for his role in the bombing. Fortier, who took a plea deal, is serving a 12-year prison term for providing assistance.

Now, McVeigh's personal war is over, and he leaves his victims' families, other survivors and his own grieving family to try to move on with their own lives. "We want Tim to know we love him very much, and many people have told us they will be praying for him in their churches, all over the country," his family said in a statement to the Buffalo News.