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Sweden deserter 'still a wanted man': US military

Sweden deserter 'still a wanted man': US military

Published: 18 Jun 2012 17:28 GMT+02:00
Updated: 18 Jun 2012 17:28 GMT+02:00

Officials with the US Air Force have said they still want to apprehend a former US airman who claims he has been living a secret life in Sweden for 28 years after deserting from a US military base in Germany.

David Hemler, now 49, recently came forward after 28 years of hiding in plain sight in Sweden with an assumed identity.

In 1984, the then 21-year-old airman left the US Air Force's 6913th Electronic Security Squadron in Augsburg, Germany and eventually made his way to Stockholm.

While nearly three decades has passed since Hemler went AWOL, he remains a wanted man by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), which confirmed that a man identifying himself as Hemler recently contacted the agency.

“We really want to catch this guy,” AFOSI spokesperson Linda Card told the New York Times.

Card's comments come on the heels of a report first published on Saturday in the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper in which Hemler revealed his secret past.

After arriving in Sweden in 1984, Hemler eventually gained residency under a false name, attended university and, over time, built up a rather unassuming life as a father and husband, despite an admittedly dubious story about how he first ended up in Sweden.

"I made up a story that I had run away from my parents while they were traveling but nobody believed it," he told DN.

Hemler, who according to the New York Times was born in Cleona, Pennsylvania, is now hoping to clear his name so he can return to his family in the United States, with whom he hasn't had any contact since leaving the US military without permission.

“I may be safe, but my parents may never able to see me if I cannot come home,” he told the newspaper.

“I think I have been punished. I’ve been worrying my parents to death for 28 years.”

While Sweden's extradition treaty with the United States doesn't cover people wanted for military offences, the Air Force has indicated Helmer may nevertheless face legal action from the US military were he to return to the country of his birth.

"Once you run from the military and you desert that’s something that follows you for the rest of your life,” another AFOSI spokesperson, James Dillard, told the New York Times.

According to Card, AFOSI is continuing to investigate the veracity of Hemler's claim.

In the meantime, Hemler continues to live and work in Sweden under his assumed identity, which he has so far refused to divulge to the media.

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Your comments about this article

20:26 June 18, 2012 by gpafledthis
Oh no ! You keep him ! Some acts ya keep on paying on !! Be "whiney" with your own and keep him in malmo with rest you choose to not evict !!
20:38 June 18, 2012 by Kalyissa
I don't get this, why do they want to arrest someone who left ? Are you not allowed to leave the military or something ? He asked to be discharged I read and they refused. Its not like its 1940s.

Bleh Americans.

I hope he plans to stay here and safe where hes probably been living, working and paying taxes for and has a family in.

Oh and gpafledthis your comment made zero sense.
20:57 June 18, 2012 by johan rebel
Lock the heartless b*astard up for 28 years for "worrying his parents to death for 28 years".

He even has the temerity to claim that the mental anguish he caused his parents was somehow punishment to him?

Get real and get a life! In jail, where you belong!
21:04 June 18, 2012 by cogito
"Sweden is a fantastic country for people like myself, said the deserter in an interview with DagensNyheter.
21:25 June 18, 2012 by rise
"I think I have been punished. I've been worrying my parents to death for 28 years."

One word for him: narcissist.
21:34 June 18, 2012 by DAVID T
He's a coward and surely must have broken the law in Sweden by assuming another identity. He should be deported and face justice for being a coward.
21:36 June 18, 2012 by Tarc the Mexan
#2: gpafledthis doesn't like brown people, that's why you see him ranting about Malmö all the time.
21:58 June 18, 2012 by dizzymoe33
@ #2

No you can't just leave the military after you have signed up. The only way out before completing the training is to "Wash Out"!! Otherwise you are the military's property for the next 2 to 4 years!!
21:58 June 18, 2012 by sigfus45
Here is a man that could have obtained a discharge from the US military and prefered to desert, becoming an oath breaker, liar and ignore his family for 28 years.
22:30 June 18, 2012 by Iraniboy
It is funny to read some posters here emphasizing that they are worried about his parents but they come up with lengthy jail solution! Why aren't you honest with yourself? I'm sure his parents rather not see him at all than seeing him in a jail in the US!

He is a brave man who was fed up with killing innocent people. An equivalent is brainwashed Talibani suicide bomber who find the light, escape the camp and starts a new life somewhere else without informing Taliban and his family in Afghanistan for the sake of his family's safrty
22:49 June 18, 2012 by Smokebox
Wimp. I wonder if the Swedish government asked him to do the mandortory Swedish service????? He must have some mental problems if he didn't contact his family for 28 years. How does his Swedish wife feel about him now????
23:31 June 18, 2012 by Dr. Dillner
@Kalyissa

No, my dear madam, you cannot, "just leave" that is called desertion. When one VOLUNTARILY signs up into the military, one takes an oath to, "follow orders". Since this person ran away from his obligations, he needs to pay the price.
01:42 June 19, 2012 by olga118
He has been "hiding in plain sight"? You don't "hide in plain sight" if you are living under a false name. Signing up for the military is a LEGAL CONTRACT.....If you break the contract you are aware of what the consequences are. @Iraniboy....Are you kidding? He is BRAVE? He could have asked for a transfer out of active combat for emotional reasons. Don't be so bloody naive.
07:02 June 19, 2012 by prince T
Let us show some little compassion for this guy. i dont agree with what he did but when i remember 28 years of disconnect from his family. I dont think he enjoyed those period himself. he must have been in his 20s then. sweden should not release him to US, he could be punished here for using false identity.
07:07 June 19, 2012 by Washingtonsman
I have seldom known a person who deserted the truth in trifles and then could be trusted in matters of importance.
07:14 June 19, 2012 by Nomark
Given that he feels safe in Sweden what stopped him contacting his parents years ago and inviting them to Sweden ?
07:41 June 19, 2012 by Vietvet
Just in case anyone is interested, the 6913th Electronic Security Squadron at Augsburg is basically an signal electronics intelligence gathering unit. While some members (such as squadron clerks etc) may not, the vast majority of unit members have a Top Secret Security clearance. I was a member of a similar unit stationed in Crete.

He volunteered to join the Air Force, he was not drafted. He more than likely earned a Top Secret Security clearance, but still deserted. He ignored his family for 28 years.

Which part of this guy, and this story, deserves any respect and compassion?

He can not be extradited from Sweden for desertion from the US military. I know. When I married my first Swedish wife, she did not choose to sign a form stating she would become a US citizen at the first opportunity. She just did not want to loose her Swedish citizenship. I supported her in her decision, and as a result lost my access to my Top Secret clearance.
08:20 June 19, 2012 by skogsbo
of course Trow, their can't be any other logical explanation, like;

he didn't want a Germany posting

he couldn't leave without first serving a 12mth waiting period(contract rules)

he was being bullied

he not quite altogether mentally

bf/gf issues

there are hundreds of logical possibilities, but none of them relate to Olof Palme!!
09:03 June 19, 2012 by Nomark
I have very little sympathy for him (though that's ok since he has a lot of sympathy for himself). Its part of the deal that you submit to military law (including the law on desertion) when you sign up. Nobody forced him into the armed forces. Furthermore, being stationed in Germany is no hardship posting.

The fact he's using his parents as an argument is also very weak. Since he feels safe in Sweden he could have contacted them at any time over the past 28 years and paid for them to visit him in Sweden. He has put them through endless worry and denied them the chance to meet their own grandkids.

He seems to be someone who doesn't want to accept the consequences of his actions/inactions but instead wants a reassuring cuddle. Its no wonder he's happy in Sweden. The sad thing is that many will somehow hail him as a hero. I'm just glad that there weren't too many of these heroes during the Cold War.
09:39 June 19, 2012 by Dazzler
To my uncle Leon. Offer still stands. Contact imminent. Please advise.
09:51 June 19, 2012 by gpafledthis
Quit with "Hemler" that's NOT his name !! aka hemler is ok !!
13:12 June 19, 2012 by Mpf
Many posters keep saying he deserted but he didn't he went Absent Without Leave (AWOL). There is a vast difference as desertion carries a much high sentence and is normally done in the face of the enemy.

In the British Armed Forces if you are AWOL for 10 years or more should you then come clean you will merely get an administrative dinhonourable discharge. Why waste the money on sending this through court and wasting thousands of tax payer money convicting someone of something we know he has done.

If you worked for a large company and decided one day, that's it I'm not going into work ever again would you expect to be arrested and thrown in jail? I understand the military is different (I've been there and done that), but at the end of the day and the sun goes down the only people who have lost out here are the familiy.

There is so much water which has gone under the bridge, wasting time and effort with a court case and spending money putting the individual in jail is exactly that. A complete waste of time.
21:33 June 19, 2012 by Nomark
@Mpf

He went absent without leave although he's now a deserter according to US military law. This assumes the military can prove he intended to stay away. I guess a 28 year stay in Sweden will make that straightforward to show.

Regarding the financial aspect, since he's now become a public figure it may make financial sense to have a high-profile prosecution as a deterrent to others.

I would have a lot more sympathy for him if he hadn't brought his parents into the whole thing.
11:01 June 20, 2012 by klubbnika
He came to Sweden illegally and acquired residence permit on false premises. Both are punishable offenses in Sweden. Why is he still not in jail???

Sweden is ludocrous. I am so happy I am not paying my taxes there anymore.
17:51 June 20, 2012 by Michael Whitfield
With the current tax implications of US citizens living in Sweden, I wonder about David Hemler's obligation to pay his share of taxes to the IRS after 28 years. I am sure he is not rich, but the amount of earned income he made while living in Sweden could be a significant amount.
21:28 June 20, 2012 by Smiling Canuk
He was born too late. The US gave amnesty to draft dodgers and deserters after the Viet Nam war. Most of the 800 or so dodgers and deserters who came to Sweden during that era returned home to the US after the amnesty was granted.
14:26 June 21, 2012 by Tsarina1
>>@Kalyissa:

I don't get this, why do they want to arrest someone who left ? Are you not allowed to leave the military or something ? He asked to be discharged I read and they refused. Its not like its 1940s.>>

He enlisted for 4 years and signed a contract to stay in the Air Force for that amount of time of his own free will. The United States military is not a corporation, you can't just up and resign from it. He had a little over a year to go when he went AWOL.

He was stationed in the 6913th Electronic Security Squadron in Augsburg, Germany, This was one of the main listening posts in Europe targeting the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries. They had a FLR-9 antenna there which was the biggest antenna in the world for intercepting radio waves.

Being in that squadron meant he was a member of the USAF Security Service and had a top secret security clearance with access to sensitve top secret information and documents. That's probably why the USAF placed him on their top ten most wanted list, and kept him there for the past 28 years old.

Even though his knowledge is obsolete now, it was very valuable to the Soviets at the time of his desertion. It is more then just a little likely that little Davy sold out to the Soviets. And he must be punished for that because he put people's lives at risk when he did that.

I can see by your post that you hate Americans and that is your right. But it isn't fair or rational to judge America's military standards to Sweden's. It would be like me saying that Sweden protects all foreign criminals from prosecution. Desertion

Regards,

Tsarina1
18:53 June 21, 2012 by Bob Hein
Dave,

Remember me and your other fellow unit members in Augsburg? We have memories, similar, yet diverse from those you have carried with you over the past 28+ years.

You volunteered to defend your country, it's citizens and the Constitution of the United States. You took an oath before God, then just one week later became involved in a pacifist church. Over the next 90-100 weeks you could have approached your recruiter, your instructors or your commanders to ask to be discharged from your military obligation.

But you completed your extensive, 71-week training, passed your background check and was given a security clearance. You then reported to Augsburg, where you underwent more training until you could perform your required duties.

At any time, up to and including your posting to Augsburg you could have aired your grievances against your perceived injustices and your disagreements with your commander-in-chief. But yet you did no such thing. That is because you still had not taken the last 28 years to formulate your cover story.

There are a lot of questions we have for you, including why you didn't talk with ANY of your fellow airmen, local military chaplains or anyone in the mental-health profession? What did you do to pay for your life on the run? It's expensive out there, and your paycheck was not going to last very long.

I would suggest that you have two options: either turn yourself into the U.S. Embassy and face the music for your actions, or remain in Sweden, unable to travel to any other nation on this planet.

I have already emailed my congresswoman and senators, asking that you not be given a pardon for yourself or the actions you took back during the Winter of 1984. I also asked that you remain on the official U.S. Deserter List and the OSI webpage as one of the Air Force's Most Wanted.

Additionally, shame on you for putting your family through this. You have turned the pride that they had for you upon enlisting into a curse, one which they had no answers for. Don't make them now change their beliefs, just because you have finally came up with a set of excuses which you feel they would accept.

Neither I, nor all of the other veterans of the armed forces accept your excuses...
18:35 June 26, 2012 by Moshe
Kalyissa:

When someone is in the American military, he or she just can't quit when it pleases him or her.

He probably comitted a crime in the military and didn't want to go to federal prison.

Sweden needs to keep him and he should never be allowed to enter into the U.S. If he returns, he deserves to be place in a military prison for the remainder of his life.

What he wants is to return and have nothing happen to him but that should never happen. Too many soldiers have died for the U.S to allow such a person to enjoy his freedoms.
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