US deserter steps forward in Sweden, explains 28 years AWOL

Ron Recinto
The Lookout

A man who deserted the U.S. Air Force in 1984 recently revealed himself to his delighted family and explained how he lived under an assumed name for 28 years in Sweden.

David Hemler, who was one of the eight most wanted fugitives by the U.S. Air Force, told the truth about himself  to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, and talked about his life as a government worker who is married with children.

Hemler deserted when he was 21 because he became disillusioned from the military, he told the newspaper. He went AWOL in October of 1984 and hitch-hiked from an Air Force base in Augsburg, Germany to Stockholm.  He built himself a life in Sweden where he didn't tell anyone his true identity.

"It was hard, but after a while I began believing my own, strange story," Hemler, 49, told the newspaper.

He said wanted to tell his story in his own words and the time was right because, his third daughter turned two and could go to day care, so his wife would be better able to cope if he was arrested, Reuters reported.

He first contacted his U.S. family four weeks ago, speaking to his brother Thomas, the news agency reported.

"I heard immediately it was David, even if he had a strange European accent after all these years," Thomas Hemler, who lives in New Jersey, was quoted as saying.

He said he asked questions to confirm the man of the phone was indeed his brother David. Reuters reported members of his U.S. family in the are planning to visit him in Sweden.

Hemler said his political views of the military were changed when he became a pacifist. With that he walked away from the Air Force base without permission.

He told Dagens Nyheter of his life when he arrived in Sweden:

"I made up a story that I ... ran away from my parents who were travelers but nobody believed it. I worked for the hamburger chain, Clock, and in geriatric care. In 1994, I started at the university and earned a very good degree."

With Swedish authorities, David Hemler is registered as a citizen of an unknown country. He was, according to the documents, born in Zürich and immigrated in January 1986. He does not want DN to print the fictitious name he has been using in Sweden, which he created by using an old friend's surname and the last name of another.

Hemler said his family in Sweden did not believe him when he first told them of his past. He said that so far no one is upset with him.

What does he hope will happen?

"That there will be no penalties at all or a few weeks in prison, max. Travel is important to me," he told the newspaper. "Today I have three home countries: U.S.A., Sweden and Thailand, which is where my wife is from. I also have important family members there."