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.