- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

The military policeman who blew the whistle on fellow soldiers who were photographed abusing Iraqi detainees has an independent streak and knew “right from wrong,” say people who know him.

Spc. Joe Darby was commended in a military report for promptly alerting superiors after discovering photographs of men and women of the 372nd Military Police Company abusing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.

Spc. Darby, 24, who still is on duty overseas, “didn’t worry about what people thought,” says Robert Ewing, his history teacher and football coach at North Star High near Jennings, Pa. “He wasn’t one who went along with his peers.”

The soldier’s tip led to an Army investigation of prisoner abuse.

The military said yesterday that Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits, 24, of Hyndman, Pa., will be the first soldier to face a court-martial in connection with the abuse. He faces trial May 19 in Baghdad.

Spc. Darby “didn’t realize that he had done anything that was super-special,” says sister-in-law Maxine Carroll. “The way he looks at it, he was just doing his job.”

Mrs. Carroll says the family is concerned some people will view his decision to turn in fellow soldiers as a betrayal, rather than heroic, especially in Cresaptown, Md., where he lives and where the 372nd is based.

“It scares you a little,” she says.

Friends and former neighbors in Pennsylvania say they’re proud of him.

“There is just so much violence in the world, and someone has to stop it,” says Gilbert Reffner, 50, who lived across the street from the Darby home when he was growing up. “Joe, he did his part.”

The family moved to Jenners in the early 1990s, neighbors say, in southern Pennsylvania coal country just a few miles from the spot where an airliner hijacked by terrorists crashed on September 11, 2001.

In Jenners, the Darbys probably had a tougher time than most in the blue-collar town. Spc. Darby’s stepfather was disabled from a construction accident. His mother stayed home to care for his young brother. Money was tight.

Spc. Darby worked evenings after school. He attended North Star High in nearby Boswell, then left to study forestry at Somerset County Vocational and Technical High School.

After he married Bernadette, the couple moved to Virginia, where he worked as an auto mechanic before enlisting.

Mr. Reffner describes the soldier as polite and respectful. He didn’t have much spending money growing up.

“He didn’t have much at all,” Mr. Reffner says. “But he was brought up properly. He was brought up to know right from wrong.”

Jennifer Pettitt, mother of a high-school girlfriend, calls him a “regular kid,” who was not particularly concerned with being popular.

“They say he did have a temper. But instead of hitting people, he’d hit towel dispensers in the school bathroom.”

Mrs. Carroll says her brother-in-law didn’t realize the effect he would have on the war or politics when he alerted a superior to the photographs of Iraqis being abused.

“We told him we were on our way to New York to do the ‘Today’ show. He didn’t believe it,” she says. “I think he kind of thinks we were just putting him on.”

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