David Hemler, the United States Air Force serviceman who deserted in 1984, has come forward after 28 years of hiding in Sweden. He has explained his desertion as due to his religious beliefs and disillusionment with the U.S. government.
Hemler decided to come forward and share his story with the Swedish newspaper Nyhter. After leaving his Air Force base in Germany, Hemler hitchhiked to Sweden, at first only planning to stay one week but then deciding to stay for another 28 years.
"I never planned on not telling the truth in the beginning," Hemler explained. "I intended to come to Sweden until I felt better (about his role in the Air Force), I expected a week or so."
He was only 21 when he walked away from his duties, building a life for himself in Sweden. Hemler is married with three children and holds a job in the Swedish government.
His decision to come forward now has much to do with his family; his youngest child is two years old and can go to daycare if necessary, should Hemler be arrested for desertion. He spent several years on the Air Force's "most wanted" list, as desertion is considered a high crime.
Even though Hemler's desertion ultimately led to a separation from his family, he still believes he did the right thing. Hemler decided to reach out to his brother, Thomas, just last month, before contacting the news agency.
"I heard immediately it was David, even if he had a strange European accent after all these years," Thomas told reporters. The family is now planning a trip to Sweden to be reunited with Hemler.
The U.S. government has not stated whether charges will be brought against Hemler or whether he will lose his citizenship in Sweden. For Hemler, though, Sweden will always be home, as he is still disillusioned with the U.S. leadership.
"Why do politics look like they do today, when it was the U.S. that armed the Taliban and the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein?" he asked the paper.
"My dream scenario," Hemler stated, "is that the responsible authorities realize I have already been punished quite severely for my actions … I have been living 28 years in lies."