David Helmer, U.S. Deserter, Found After 28 Years AWOL From Air Force

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David Hemler, a U.S. Air Force deserter who has lived secretly in Sweden since 1984, has revealed his identity and contacted his family in America.

They had no idea he was alive.

The Swedish newspaper that broke the story said that David Hemler deserted the military at age 21 while serving at a U.S. Air Force base in Germany.

He made the decision to flee after getting involved with a pacifist church and becoming disillusioned with the policies of then-President Ronald Reagan.

He hitchhiked via Denmark to Sweden where he settled down, living under an alias for the last 28 years and not revealing his true identity to anyone.

"I never planned on not telling the truth in the beginning. I intended to come to Sweden until I felt better ... I expected a week or so," Hemler said.

Now 49, he is married to a woman from Thailand, has three children and works for a Swedish government agency, but would not reveal his alias.

After his desertion, he became one of the U.S. Air Force's eight most wanted fugitives, with military police, Interpol and Europol all looking for him.

Hemler told the newspaper he had missed his parents after he deserted but went on to have a child and had not wanted to be separated from her.

He had decided to come forward after his third daughter turned two and could go to day care, so his wife could better able to cope if he was arrested.

David said he first contacted his U.S. family four weeks ago, speaking to his brother Thomas who was in Massachusetts at the time on a business trip.

"I heard immediately it was David, even if he had a strange European accent after all these years," Thomas Hemler, who lives in New Jersey, said.

He said he had asked questions to confirm the man was indeed his brother David. Members of his family are now planning to visit him in Sweden.

The website of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations lists Hemler, who was born in Pennsylvania, as having deserted on February 10, 1984.

He was with the 6913th Electronic Security Squadron in Augsburg, Germany.

Its Air Force Fugitives page shows a photo of David Hemler as a young man, and a photo digitally enhanced to show how he might look aged 47.

The newspaper said Hemler was registered in Sweden as a citizen of an unknown country who was born in Zurich. So what happens to him now?

"My opinion is that he will not lose his permanent residence permit in Sweden [or be extradited to the U.S.], it is very unlikely," his attorney said.

A U.S. embassy spokesman declined to comment on the case.

"My dream scenario is that the authorities realize I have already been punished severely for my actions ... I have been living 28 years in lies," Hemler said.