Monday, June 18, 2012

us deserter david hemler found after 28 years

A U.S. Air Force deserter who has lived secretly in Sweden since 1984 has revealed his identity and contacted his family in the United States who were overwhelmed to hear he was still alive, a Swedish newspaper reported at the weekend.
Dagens Nyheter said David Hemler had deserted aged 21 while serving at a U.S. Air Force base in Germany, after getting involved with a pacifist church and becoming disillusioned with the policies of former President Ronald Reagan.

He hitchhiked via Denmark to Sweden where he settled down, living under an assumed name for the last 28 years and not revealing his true identity to anyone.
"I never planned on not telling the truth in the beginning. I intended to come to Sweden until I felt better (after his experience in the airforce), I expected a week or so," Hemler told the newspaper in a video on its website.
Now aged 49, he is married to a woman from Thailand, has three children and works for a Swedish government agency, but would not let the newspaper print his assumed name.

After his desertion, he became one of the U.S. Air Force's eight most wanted fugitives, according to the newspaper, and had expected at any time to be arrested by military police with both Interpol and Europol looking for him.

Hemler told the newspaper he had missed his parents after he deserted but went on to have a child and had not wanted to be separated from her.

He had decided to come forward after his third daughter turned two and could go to day care, so his wife would be better able to cope if he was arrested.

He first contacted his U.S. family four weeks ago, speaking to his brother Thomas who was in Massachusetts at the time on a business trip.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 on Sunday as saying.

He said he had asked questions to confirm the man was indeed his brother David. Members of his family in the United States are now planning to visit him in Sweden.

The website of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations lists Hemler, who was born in Pennsylvania, as having deserted on February 10, 1984 from the 6913th Electronic Security Squadron in Augsburg, Germany.

Its Air Force Fugitives page shows a photo of Hemler as a young man, and a photo digitally enhanced to show how he might look aged 47.

The newspaper said Hemler was registered in Sweden as a citizen of an unknown country who was born in Zurich.

His lawyer, Emma Persson, told Reuters he had approached her firm for legal advice about a month ago.

"My opinion is that he will not lose his permanent residence permit in Sweden, it is very unlikely," she said. She also thought it unlikely he would be extradited to the United States.

A U.S. embassy spokesman declined to comment on the case.

"My dream scenario is that the responsible authorities realise I have already been punished quite severely for my actions ... I have been living 28 years in lies," Hemler said. The mystery of a missing U.S. airman who went AWOL 28 years ago has been solved after the deserter revealed his shocking secret life to a Swedish newspaper.

Fugitive David Hemler, now 49, stepped out of the shadows because he was missing his family in America.

“Many people think it’s been horrible for me to carry this secret for such a long time, but I have mostly missed my parents,” he told the Dagens Nyhter newspaper on Saturday.

“I never intended to be gone for this long, rather the opposite,” he said, adding, “I have always been afraid I would die before I could tell anyone.”

Hemler came clean to his true identity after years of parading in Sweden as a runaway born in Zurich, Switzerland.

In actuality, the Pennsylvania-born airman deserted the U.S. Air Force base in Augsburg, Germany, in February 1984. He had become disenchanted with U.S. foreign policy when President Ronald Reagan was in office, and disapproved of the country’s support for the Nicaraguan Contras, he said.

He claimed he tried to get an official discharge as a pacifist, but was denied.

So he fled instead, and cobbled together a new life in Sweden: In 1986, he used a fake name and received a residence permit. He met a woman from Thailand, had three children and found a job with a government agency, Reuters reported.

Hemler, whose Swedish alias wasn’t revealed in local reports, said he worried about being deported early on if he had contacted his parents and they decided to alert authorities.

He remains listed as a fugitive with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.

“If I was exposed in Sweden, I feared I’d lose my residence permit,” he admitted to Dagens Nyhter. “I didn’t want to leave my daughter, and with a dishonorable discharge I would never find a job, get no retirement and no medical benefits.”

But now, ready to accept his fate, Hemler said he called his family four weeks ago to reveal that he was actually alive. His parents, in their 70s, are still living.

His brother, Thomas Hemler, said he quizzed his long-lost sibling to confirm it was him.

“Twenty-eight years ago we thought we had lost him forever, and him coming back is just a blessing,” he told the New York Times on Sunday. “We’re only interested in today and tomorrow, not the past.”

While the U.S. Embassy declined comment, a lawyer for Hemler said it was unlikely he’d lose his residence permit or be extradited after all these years.

The Air Forice is investigating Hemler’s claims, and it wasn’t immediately clear what penalties he could face if he were to return to the United States.

Hemler’s family, meanwhile, plans to visit him in Sweden, they said.

“I had expected and deserved a scolding. But nobody has reacted that way,” Hemler told Dagens Nyhter. “Everyone is just happy that I am alive.”

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