A United States Air Force deserter, David Hemler, has been found after 28 years on the run. He’s been living in Sweden since 1984 and has finally revealed his true identity. The missing soldier contacted his family, who was overwhelmed to hear that he was still alive.
Hemler, now 49, stepped out of the shadows because he was missing his family in America. He is married to a woman from Thailand, has three children, and works for a Swedish government agency.
“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.
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.
“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 Force 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.
After his desertion, he became one of the USAF’s eight most wanted fugitives, sought by military police, Interpol and Europol.