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 (search) was commended in a military report for promptly alerting superiors after discovering photographs of fellow 372nd Military Police Company personnel taking part in abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib (search) prison.

Darby, 24, who is still on duty overseas, "didn't worry about what people thought," said Robert Ewing, Darby's history teacher and football coach at North Star High near Jenners, Pa. "He wasn't one that went along with his peers."

Darby's tip led to an investigation of prisoner abuse that has outraged people around the world and changed the tenor of America's war effort in Iraq.

The military said Sunday that Spc. Jeremy C. Sivits (search), 24, of Hyndman, also from Pennsylvania, will be the first soldier to face a court martial in connection with the abuse. He faces trial May 19 in Baghdad.

Darby "didn't realize that he had done anything that was super special," said sister-in-law Maxine Carroll. "The way he looks at it, he was just doing his job."

Carroll said the family is concerned some people will view Darby's decision to turn in fellow soldiers as traitorous, rather than heroic, especially in Cresaptown, Md., where he lives and where the 372nd is based.

"It scares you a little," she said.

Friends and former neighbors in Pennsylvania said they are proud of Darby.

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

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

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

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

Reffner described Darby as polite and respectful. He said the family had little money when he was growing up.

"He didn't have much at all," Reffner said. "But he was brought up properly. He was brought up to know right from wrong."

Jennifer Pettitt, mother of a high-school girlfriend, called him a "regular kid," but one 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," she said.

Carroll said her brother-in-law does not realize that he probably changed the course of history 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 said. "I think he kind of thinks we were just putting him on."