US deserter David Hemler found after 28 years


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Ronald Reagan's hawkish policies drove a US airman, David Hemler, to desert his unit in Germany more than a quarter of a century ago. With no clues to his whereabouts, his relatives presumed he was dead.

But, missing his family, Mr Hemler, now 49, has finally called home to reveal that for the past 28 years he has been living in Sweden. He has married, fathered three children and found a job with the government.

"I never planned on it being this long," Mr Hemler told The New York Times from his home in Uppsala. "Days went and weeks and I started to realise maybe the military police weren't coming. I just felt so good."

Still wanted by the US Air Force, Mr Hemler has had one of the longest absences without leave on record.

It began in February 1984, when President Reagan was facing down the Soviet Union and had just overseen the controversial deployment of US missiles in Germany. Mr Hemler, then a 21-year-old with the 6913th Electronic Security Squadron, based in Bavaria, was angered by the policies. He had also lost his girlfriend. His answer was to walk out and hitchhike to Sweden.

The air force issued a warrant for his arrest, but Mr Hemler adopted an alias, convinced officials he was the son of vagrants and was eventually granted a residence permit. He worked in a restaurant and a nursing home before finding his present job with the government. He now lives with his Swedish wife and their two young children. He has a 22-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.

While an extradition agreement exists between the US and Sweden, it does not cover military offences.

Mr Hemler said: "My parents may never see me if I can't come home. I think I've been punished. I've worried my parents to death for 28 years."