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Disillusioned US serviceman hides in Sweden for 28 years

Published time: June 18, 2012 18:26
Edited time: June 29, 2012 21:53
An age progressed image of David Hemler (Reuters / Handout)

An age progressed image of David Hemler (Reuters / Handout)

From Sweden over the weekend, the man once known as David Hemler came clean with something he hid from the world for almost 30 years: he’s been living under a fake identity for nearly three decades after going AWOL from the US Air Force in 1984.

Just after 28 years of being on the run, Hemler, 49, revealed to the world over the weekend that he is alive and well — he’s just being living under an assumed name in Sweden ever since he deserted the US military and never moved back.

“I never planned on it being this long,” Hemler tells the New York Times from the Swedish town of Uppsala. “Days went and weeks, and I started to realize that maybe the military police weren’t coming. I just felt so good. I had a delayed teenage rebellion, you could say.”

"I know I was wrong leaving the base, but I had asked for a discharge and was refused. I think I was recruited at too early of an age also. I didn't really know what I wanted to do then,” he tells CBS News.

That rebellion, Hemler says, was sparked by a revelation he had in the early 80s. While serving overseas with the US Air Force, Hemler tells Reuters that he became disillusioned with the policies of then-US President Ronald Reagan and decided to ditch his job with Uncle Sam in exchange for a new life in a new world. For 28 years, he hid his true identity from everyone — even his family.

“I never planned on not telling the truth in the beginning. I intended to come to Sweden until I felt better,” he adds to the Dagens Nyheter newspaper. Days became weeks, however, and then years. Now he has revealed his identity to the world to ease his conscious, but it’s a move that could make life miserable once more for the vet—he is still wanted by the US military for going AWOL nearly three decades earlier.

"My dream scenario is that the responsible authorities realize I have already been punished quite severely for my actions … I have been living 28 years in lies," Hemler tells Dagens Nyheter.

The Air Force might not be so understanding, though.

“Once you run from the military and you desert that’s something that follows you for the rest of your life,” Air Force Office of Special Investigations spokesman James Dillard tells The Times.

Hemler hopes the opposite is true, though. "I hope that the authorities can say that I've already been punished enough and my hope is to be able to return to see my parents in the United States,” he tells CBS News. “I may be safe, but my parents may never able to see me if I cannot come home,” he adds to the Times. “I think I have been punished. I’ve been worrying my parents to death for 28 years.”

Since coming to Sweden in the mid-1980s, Hemler has married a Thai woman and fathered three children. Only recently has his youngest daughter turned 2 years old, he says, and he feels that his wife could take care of her on her own if necessary.

“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,” he says.

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