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US airman emerges in Sweden after 28 years

16 Jun 2012, 23:27

Published: 16 Jun 2012 23:27 GMT+02:00

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In October 1984, David Hemler was a 21-year-old airman when he abandoned the US Air Force's 6913th Electronic Security Squadron in Augsburg, Germany and eventually made his way to Stockholm, Sweden.

He assumed a new identity and managed to keep his past a secret for 28 years.

"I made up a story that I had run away from my parents while they were traveling but nobody believed it," he said in an interview published on Saturday in the Dagens Nyhter (DN) newspaper.

Hemler is registered in Sweden as being born in Zurich, but as a citizen of an unknown country. He received a Swedish residence permit in 1986 using a fictitious name consisting of the first name of an old friend and the last name of another.

He requested, however, that the name he has used in Sweden for nearly 30 years not be published.

Settled in Sweden, Hemler worked at a hamburger restaurant and within geriatric care before eventually enrolling in university in 1994.

Today, Hemler still lives in Stockholm, has three children, works for a public agency and marvels that he's been able to keep his past as a US military deserter secret for all these years.

"Sweden is a fantastic country for people like myself. 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 DN.

"I never intended to be gone for this long, rather the opposite. My thoughts wander when I cross the streets in Stockholm. I have always been afraid I would die before I could tell anyone."

While living a comfortable yet secret life in Sweden, Hemler become a wanted man, listed as a fugitive by the US Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).

Fear that someone in the US might turn him in was one of the reasons why he never contacted his parents to explain that he was alive and well in Sweden.

"If I was exposed in Sweden, I feared I’d lose my residence permit. 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 explained.

But after assurances from lawyers that his Swedish residence permit wouldn't be revoked and that extradition to the United States was "out of the question", Hemler contacted the agency a month ago to alert US authorities as to his whereabouts.

As AFOSI officials consider how to deal with Hemler's unusual circumstances, he's reached out to family members in the US who had no idea as to his whereabouts for nearly 30 years.

"I had expected and deserved a scolding. But nobody has reacted that way," he said.

"Everyone is just happy that I am alive."

Hemler's decision to leave the US Air Force without permission back in 1984 was due in part to frustration with US foreign policy under Ronald Reagan.

"How could our taxpayers be forced to arm terrorists like the Contras in Nicaragua?" he explained.

Following a denial of his request for a discharge based on his membership in a pacifist church, Hemler deserted.

Story continues below…

While admitting he's missed the United States "enormously" while living in Sweden, Hemler remains frustrated by US foreign policy.

“Why do politics look like they do today when it was the US that armed the Taliban and the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein?"

The prospect of "a few weeks in jail, max" as a possible punishment for his 28 years on the run doesn't concern Hemler and he's happy to be the one making his story public.

“I don’t think I can keep this out of media, and I wanted to tell my story without pressure and in my own words," he told DN

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Your comments about this article

08:28 June 17, 2012 by rybo1
May God bless the man, David Hemler, who stayed true to his principles and challenged the world's greatest "hypocrisy", America.
10:25 June 17, 2012 by rise
Never desert!! Pay the consequences of your choices instead of trying to flee them. Not only do your choices affect yourself but every choice you do does in fact have an effect on other peoples as well. He shouldn't have been as selfish, he should have stayed during his contract with the US military (or whoever had him employed) and THEN searched for other employment. By deserting, and disappearing as he did, not only has he abandoned himself but most likely also given his parents, other relatives and friends a tremendous amount of grief as well. Who gave him the right? Pitiful fool. He should have stayed his contract and afterwards maybe started to work politically against the things he fled...
10:31 June 17, 2012 by Uncle

"challenged the world's greatest "hypocrisy", America. "

If one puts quotes around the word - he does not mean it. Example:

He opposed the US actions, who opposed the "straightforward" and "honest" USSR, that held it's people and the people of eastern Europe in fear and under oppression, while sponsoring the most horrible regimes in the world. All of this with declared intentions to bring the "blessing" of communism upon the entire world.

One could let them do that OR one could see the flow of Eastern Germans to the west after the fall of Berlin wall and understand that perhaps US was not such an "awful enemy" of the world.

Now this is correct use of quotes.
10:47 June 17, 2012 by Iraniboy
Brave man with good political insight who believes in principle of freedom and democracy per se!

Yes US funded Taliban to fight against Russia and funded Saddam to fight against Iran, but what goes around comes around!
11:30 June 17, 2012 by runninblues
My Uncle was a soldier, fought in Vietnam honorably - was awarded the Bronze and Silver Star, lost many close friends and saw things I could never imagine. This man is a disgrace to all those men and women who have served (enlisted or drafted) the United States. You can tell he has lived in Sweden becasue he is proud of his quitting and blending in.
11:35 June 17, 2012 by occassional
MAN not MEN TL!!! Unless he was hiding with his co-pilot.
12:18 June 17, 2012 by libertarianism
Re 2, well said.
12:27 June 17, 2012 by Challie70
I am so frustrated by American policy and living in Sweden has just made it more so. I wish you the best with the outcome of your decision to come forward. My brother was Navy for 20+ years...all it taught him was how to hate the US government and how to drink like a sailor. I feel I am blessed to live in a country like Sweden, even though there are things here I don't agree with I am amazed with what they try to accomplish. Good luck to you and yours! I wish you the best in everything!
12:49 June 17, 2012 by JulieLou40
I think what he has done to his parents is unforgivable. The grief they must have carried with them for all this time is unthinkable.
12:56 June 17, 2012 by calebian22
He's a disgrace. The fact that extradition is out of the question speaks volumes about Sweden.
13:22 June 17, 2012 by Uncle
"Yes US funded Taliban to fight against Russia and funded Saddam to fight against Iran, but what goes around comes around! "

Yep, and it saved the behinds of South Koreans, Kosovos and Kuwaitees. It also tried to fight Mugabe until the popular public opinion did not stop it, hoping that Mugabe is actually good for the people. It also tried to eliminate Somalian dictator, who starved 2 million just for fun and it helped somalian neighbours to oppose the biggest army in Africa in the 70's.

It introduced Marshall plan that made Japan and Germany richest nations on earth after USA. US sponsored the stopping of communism dictatorships around the world. Meanwhile the successful socialist states like North Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia introduced cracking skulls of the nations babies on trees in industrial amounts and establishing concentration camps.

Another wonderful example of socialist states are Angola, Congo, Mongolia, Yemen and Benin. I am sure that Iran would not be the one stopping USSR to spread the good socialism around.
13:31 June 17, 2012 by HYBRED
He will be in a lot of trouble if he didn't file his FBAR.
14:09 June 17, 2012 by AdamVikingen

Seems like yo forgot a few "Socialist Nations"






Japan (Social-Democrats)


Tibetan Government (Dali Lama has announced he supports Marxism fully)

Cyprus (Marxist-Leninists)





(These are just a few of the nations in the world that have a Socialist government)

The ones you mentioned aren't even Communists or Socialists in any way, read about the philosophy before you crack at it. To begin with, Socialism is built upon the theory of Democracy, without it, no Socialism. It even says in the Manifesto (I own one) That a nations who proclaims to be Socialist but dose not have a functioning Democratic system can never be a Socialist state, they would only be a dictatorship with ""SOCIAL-VALUES"".

And when we talk about democracy i would like to mention the US as a worst case scenario, think about it. How many % of the people in the US vote? about 33% if i remember right, then how many % dose the president need to take office? about 16%. So technically the president of the United states only have the support of 16% of the people, dose that sound like democracy? Nope, though i dont know if it was the same numbers during the election of Obama, i think he got a bit higher number of Votes.

Now you mentioned North-Korea and Cambodia, do you seriously think any Socialist in the worl would suport them? no, let me ask you, who stopped Pol Pot? (The Cambodian leader) Was it the US? No, It was North-Vietnam! (Ho Chi Minh) If you read on a little you will notice the US was actully suporting Pol Pot during some time, they where even the first once that open up contact with him after her took power!


Then lets take Chile, Who supported Pinochet? (Ranked one fo the worlds bloodiest dictators, Pol Pot is the #1 on that i think) The US did, and they Did even until his death and i think even after, i know that the UK Did as well (Or at least Thatcher did)

Then we got Franco in Spain, who supported him? The US did, and who did Franco support? Nazi Germany did! They even helped him take power against the Spanish Republicans (Who where "kinda" socialistic)

Summa Sumarum:

Before you proclaim you know everything about a ideology, nation or philosophy, just make you sure "ACTUALLY" know even what it is and what it stands for.

And to read up a lot on History!

Glad sommar!
14:11 June 17, 2012 by Nomark
To have drawn attention to himself is daft. The US military now knows where he is and, presumably, could find out a lot more with a little more investigation. Now that he's become something of a public figure I assume they would now be keener to reopen the case and apprehend him.

He may feel safe in Sweden but it wouldn't now be wise for him to travel to any other country which may be willing to extradite him.
14:58 June 17, 2012 by Svensksmith
I wonder how he would feel if his daughter disappeared for 30 years.
16:39 June 17, 2012 by skatty
I think Sweden (generally Scandinavia) is the best place for exile, but not for immigration!

There are such social and cultural circumstances that allow an individual to survive without any need for connection with his/her environment, it's possible to reduce the social life to zero; some people may live in an apartment for years without even visiting or seeing the face of their nearest neighbors.
16:47 June 17, 2012 by Smokebox
Man. No way. Any person who deserts his family is a loser.
17:48 June 17, 2012 by libertarianism
What was the point of post 13?
18:04 June 17, 2012 by J Jack
Come to Mammi Sweden when dealing with the US, how convenient that this forgiveness happens at the same time as 'Assange' loses his fight against extradition to Sweden. Smells like a trade off.
21:09 June 17, 2012 by dizzymoe33
Well even though he has cleared his conscience he is still a coward he abandoned his post and his Country. When you enlist into the United States Military you loose the right to have these kinds of opinions. The only thing a solider can do is follow his/her orders and when their time has been served and they don't reenlist then they have do what ever they want and have what ever opinion they want to have. I feel sorry for his family having to live with this shame that their son has brought upon them.
21:56 June 17, 2012 by bcterry
"And when we talk about democracy i would like to mention the US as a worst case scenario, think about it. How many % of the people in the US vote? about 33% if i remember right, then how many % dose the president need to take office? about 16%. So technically the president of the United states only have the support of 16% of the people, dose that sound like democracy? Nope, though i dont know if it was the same numbers during the election of Obama, i think he got a bit higher number of Votes."

U.S. Presidential elections.

1964 114,090,000 70,651,298 61.93%

1968 120,328,186 73,199,998 60.83%

1972 140,776,000 77,744,027 55.22%

1976 152,309,190 81,531,584 53.53%

1980 164,597,000 86,574,904 52.60%

1984 174,466,000 92,653,233 53.11%

1988 182,778,000 91,594,686 50.11%

1992 189,529,000 104,423,923 55.10%

1996 196,511,000 96,277,634 49.00%

2000 205,815,000 105,405,100 51.21%

2004 215,694,000 122,267,553 56.69%

2008 231,229,580 132,645,504 57.37%
00:21 June 18, 2012 by Michael Whitfield
Being frustrated with US foreign policy during the Ronald Reagan presidency seems like a lame reason to desert your military unit and live abroad for 28 years. The US was not at war during this period, except cold war with USSR which was slowly coming to an end anyway. Being stationed in Germany during this time was a great assignment anyway. Desertion just does not make sense. During the Vietnam era, maybe it would've made more of a logical, but not a correct decision. Explaining this to your kids as they get older might be awkward situation. Think of your parents not being able to see their grandchildren unless they travel to Sweden. I am glad I am not in your shoes. It would be a stigma I could not live with.
00:30 June 18, 2012 by yellowbluedemocrat
Nice to see some numbers in this discussion. The above list, while accurate, represents only presidential elections. In the other even-numbered years, i.e. every other federal election, the numbers are below 40% of eligible voters in nine of the 12 non-presidential elections between 1964 and 2008. That means that in 11 of those-in-between years years when House of Representative members were elected and in 12 years when senators were elected, they were chosen by under half of the eligible population. Federal election turnout in these off years only exceeded 40% in the years 1961, 1966 and 1970. Students of voting behavior are unable to come to any clearcut reasons for this rather low level of turnout, but they generally agree that the U.S. lags behind other Western democracies on this measure of citizen participation.
03:29 June 18, 2012 by feathernoodle
What a disgraceful, selfish person. To put his family through the agony of wondering what happened to their son/brother/grandson, etc. for nearly 30 years, only to find that he was married with three children, living happily in another country. Not to even mention that he dishonorably broke a contract he made to serve and protect his country. It doesn't matter if you later decide you don't agree with the politics, that does not absolve you from the oath that you took when you became a member of the armed services. The tour of duty is only 4 years, he could have just sucked it up, saw it through and then left the military and the U.S. as an honorable man, instead of a selfish coward. Goodbye and good riddance.
05:05 June 18, 2012 by carib8478
My husband and I both served in the US military and saw things that many people wouldn't see in a lifetime. My brother and uncle are currently serving as well. No matter how bad it was or how much we hated going into Iraq, we never thought about deserting.

This guy is a disgrace to the military. Plain and simple
07:44 June 18, 2012 by Washingtonsman
Punishment is now unfashionable... because it creates moral distinctions among men, which, to the democratic mind, are odious. We prefer a meaningless collective guilt to a meaningful individual responsibility.
07:52 June 18, 2012 by bolababu
Swedes have finally begun to think like their big brothers - Americans, otherwise the big brother weilds the stick.
08:52 June 18, 2012 by fakeempire
Why did he come out of the box!! He should have stayed hidden!! Then after he died, he would have been praised at some point!
10:17 June 18, 2012 by klubbnika
What the duce! If he lied about his identity does it mean Migrationsverket will take his citizenship and residence permit back and deport him???I have a feeling something has not been said here. Migrationsverket is not that stupid to not see that the man is American.
10:49 June 18, 2012 by Rebel
I think he is naive to believe the worse he can get is a few weeks in jail. Obama now has the right to erase anyone he wants and imprison anyone as long as he wants under the NDAA. He left during the Reagan administration which was trying to scale back government and now he wants to return during the Obama administration which is trying to make the US another North Korea?
10:55 June 18, 2012 by Dazzler
My uncle Leon can call me to take care of this guy any time he wishes! Free of charge of course :)
11:08 June 18, 2012 by johan rebel
"I think what he has done to his parents is unforgivable. The grief they must have carried with them for all this time is unthinkable"

Exaclty! What a selfish, cold-hearted s.o.b.

The only favor he has done us by coming ut of the closet is to prove how ridiculously easy it is to fool migrationsverket. How stupid can they be? Saw the guy on TV this morning, after 28 years of trying to learn Swedish his accent is still a dead giveaway.

Now let's hope he sinks back nto well-deserved obscurity double-quick. His TV appareance was one too many.
11:13 June 18, 2012 by rise

Thank you.
12:53 June 18, 2012 by cogito
He abandoned his parents, his friends and his comrades in the service. He ran out on his professional and family responsibilities.

"Sweden is a fantastic country for people like myself," he says.

13:44 June 18, 2012 by soultraveler3
What a horrible, selfish and immature person!

To let your friends and family suffer for years wondering if you were dead, hurt, in trouble, what they've done wrong, etc. is inexcusable.

All because he supposedly didn't agree with some of the policies of the government? If that was really the case why didn't he either finish up his time in the military then study at uni to get a job where he could make a difference? Or why not after 10 years in Sweden did he not study that here for free? It just sounds like a bunch of bullsh#t.

The fact that he had no problem lying about his origins, history and reasons for being in Sweden, that he lied to everyone he's known since being in Sweden and had no problem lying to the government here all to just get what he wanted is disturbing. He's still doing it, sounds like a sociopath and the Swedish government is protecting him for some reason. It's strange.
21:29 June 18, 2012 by DAVID T
what a coward - he joined the military - he wasn't drafted and he didn't like it so he done a runner - send him back for his punishment
23:57 June 18, 2012 by rcb007
Man up and take responsibility for your cowardly actions.
09:03 June 19, 2012 by Coolrunnings
If you actually read the DN article it says that one of the reasons for deserting was that he was cheated by the recruitment guy who claimed he would get a higher salary than he actually did. And the promised university education by the army was weekends spent traveling all over germany for short courses.

Imagine getting 2200$ instead of a promised 3000$ for a contract.
10:57 June 19, 2012 by AmericaninStockholm
Okay. Obviously I'm American and some of you on here have said some pretty colorful things about my country. However, I'll avoid that discussion and sum up my personal opinion character of the man:

"Fear that his parents might turn him in was one of the reasons why he never contacted them to explain that he was alive and well in Sweden"

That alone is the worst excuse I have ever heard in my life. What kind of man does not contact his family for almost 30 years to tell him that he is alive. He just joined the armed forces, deserted, and didn't have the curtesy to say anything to the people who cared about him the most.

I would never do that to my family. He didn't have to say where he was. He especially has no excuse over the past 15 or so years because it is as easy as ever to find someone online, make a completely anonymous and untraceable account and send someone an email. Just a single email so that his parents would know that their son was alive.

You can have your opinions on US policy and desertion. But, that was a selfish, cruel thing to do to a family.
15:34 June 19, 2012 by klubbnika
Hmm... Check this out:


He speaks English with a Swedish accent. Why?

Maybe this man is not the man he claims he is?
21:56 June 19, 2012 by Nomark

He said he was deceived. How do you know he's telling the truth ? Didn't he read his contract and check out the figures first. I'm sure that the recruitment guy probably has a different spin on it. Eg more money if he reaches a certain rank and uni education if the opportunity arises etc. Many soldiers go through hell and don't desert. To disappear because he got a bit less money than he thought he should or that he didn't get a uni education is rather weak.


Many born again immigrants do this. The ex England football manager Steve Maclaren was speaking English with a Dutch accent a few months after moving to the Netherlands. Then again, it may be a wind-up, stranger things have happened. He certainly came over as being a bit simple.
04:25 June 21, 2012 by Bob Hein

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 do not accept your excuses...
08:00 June 22, 2012 by grymagnusson
reading this story in DN made me wonder - why hadn't The Local picked up on this first? Isn't this just the type of story you should be covering first, not pimping off the Swedish dailies?

So the guy left a US base in Germany for a new life in Sweden, it is not as if he murdered his regiment. He has asked for nothing from the US, cut him some slack.
14:24 June 25, 2012 by Roy E
1984? In 1984 , the US had an all volunteer military.

This guy has no excuse. He's a total loser. His word is worth nothing.
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