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To Sgt. Louis Brandwein, something about the "ridiculously obese" man in ACUs at the gun show looked off.
He wore a nonregulation MOLLE belt, Special Forces qualification tabs on both shoulders and a rare Combat Infantryman Badge with two stars.
"Everything was just wrong. As soon as I looked at him, I was like, 'What the hell,' " said Brandwein, a 25-year-old infantryman at Fort Richardson, Alaska.
The man Brandwein saw posing as a Green Beret in Anchorage, and confronted, was con man and serial faker William James Clark. Clark did federal prison time for posing as an Army captain at a 2002 bridge disaster.
Weeks later, Clark was arrested on Aug. 27 at a hotel in Deadhorse, about 500 miles north of Anchorage. He was charged with carrying a firearm while a convicted felon.
Although the federal Stolen Valor Act was ruled an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights in July, the issue of military fakers remains provocative. Since Brandwein told the story last month on the gun owners website Georgia Packing, it has received more than 800 replies, many full of anger at Clark.
"Blood, sweat and tears have dropped out of your body in that uniform, so there was a vicious backlash; there's no way in hell a veteran's going to let that slide," said Brandwein in an interview. Brandwein is with the 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.
In March, Brandwein and the 501st returned from Forward Operating Base Kushamond in Paktika province, Afghanistan. During the tour, he lost two platoon mates, 1st Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw, 24, and Staff Sgt. Michael C. Murphrey, 25.
"It brings something out of you when you see someone who's going to flaunt the uniform and make it something pathetic," Brandwein said.
On Aug. 7 at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Brandwein spotted Clark, moved in to examine his uniform and realized something was amiss. Among other sloppiness, Clark wore the two-star CIB below a military-police badge, not above, and he wore a senior parachutist badge, which suggested a lower level of experience than the CIB.
Brandwein asked Clark his unit; he replied 10th Special Forces. Brandwein, incredulous, got Clark to step out to the parking lot.
He asked Clark things a Green Beret would know, and Clark's answers failed to satisfy. At one point, Clark said he was an 11C, though Special Forces corresponds with the 18 series.
The final straw was when Clark reached for his black beret. "I was like, really? OK, this guy is done," Brandwein said. "If you're going to wear a Special Forces tab on your arm, they're called 'Green Berets' because they have green berets."
Clark eventually confessed he was not as he presented himself.
"He said, 'What if I told you I'm not in the military,' and I said 'What if I f---ing tell you I know,' " Brandwein said.
"I said, 'I've had friends who have died in this uniform and you're a disgrace to think you could even put it on,' " Brandwein said. "He said he didn't want me to tell anybody in the show because of everybody he had lied to in the show."
Brandwein demanded Clark remove his badges and insignia and give them to him — and Clark consented. Brandwein used his phone to snap some photographs.
He let Clark leave and afterward went home himself to write an Internet post about the experience, including photos of Clark and the unearned insignia he had pocketed.
In the angry replies, people included newspaper articles about Clark's past.
• In 2002, Clark showed up in Army fatigues at a bridge collapse in Oklahoma, identified himself as a captain with the 10th Special Forces Group and spent nearly three days in charge of the recovery effort. He was sentenced to nearly six years in prison and was released from a halfway house in 2007.
• In 2008, Clark was sent back to prison after he called the Russian Embassy claiming to be part of a covert military operation to assassinate then-President Vladimir Putin, the Associated Press reported.
On Aug. 23, Fairbanks police were called to a senior center after Clark showed a pistol to the director there and claimed to be a military police officer, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. Clark was cited for trespassing, and officers discovered later that he has warrants out in five states.
Brandwein said Clark should be severely punished.
"He's done it more than once ... and he came right out and he's doing it again, in full force."