Air Force airman who deserted in 1984 surfaces in Sweden
An American who says he deserted from a U.S. Air Force Base in Germany in 1984 has surfaced in Sweden after deciding to call his parents for the first time in nearly three decades.
David Hemler, 49, who grew up in Pennsylvania, says his parents did not know he was alive until he called them recently.
Hemler tells Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyhter that he left his squadron in Augusburg, Germany, in 1984 as a 21-year-old airman after he became a peace activist.
"How could our taxpayers be forced to arm terrorists like the contras in Nicaragua?" he tells the Swedish newspaper. He also says he was not cut out for a military lifestyle.
Hemler, who speaks English with a decidedly Swedish accent, used a phony name and claimed to be born in Zurich when he arrived in Sweden from Germany.
He says he expected to be caught within a few weeks, but no one ever came looking for him.
"I never planned on it being this long," Hemler tells The New York Times from Uppsala, the university town where lives. "Days went and weeks, and I started to realize that maybe the military police weren't coming," he says. "I just felt so good. I had a delayed teenage rebellion, you could say."
Hemler, who is married to a Swedish woman and has three children, tells Dagens Nyheter that he has been assured by Swedish authorities that he would not be extradited to the U.S. if he went public with his story.
He also says never contacted his politically conservative parents during three decades because he felt that they might turn him in.
As it turns out, he says, his family is simply pleased to hear from him.
"I had expected and deserved a scolding. But nobody has reacted that way," he tells Dagens Nyheter. "Everyone is just happy that I am alive."
But he also says he regrets his actions, blaming it on his immaturity and not realizing what he was getting into by joining the military.
Hemler says he does not know what legal problem he faces, but believes he has "already been punished quite severely for my actions past" by being forced to live in secret, without any contact with his family.
"My hope is to be able to return to see my parents in the U.S., " he says. "They are getting old now and their grand kids needs to see their grandparents."
The New York Times quotes Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, as confirming that a man identifying himself as Hemler got in touch with the agency two weeks ago and that that officials are investigating his claim.
"We really want to catch this guy," she tells The Times.