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A portrait and a news article

Serendipity in Fort Lewis' history

Cpl. Saul Bernstein is pictured here inside a copy of The Ranger newspaper from 1958. Photo courtesy Maj. Wm. Pileggi (USAR, Ret.)

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A photograph of a soldier's father, an Army artist, and a soldier-journalist who wrote an article for The Ranger newspaper, created a paragraph of serendipity in the history of Fort Lewis.

The photograph was of Thommas Pileggi, and it was a prized possession of Cpl. Ralph Pillage; the post artist was Cpl. Saul Bernstein; the journalist was Pfc. Jay Berger.

Both Pillage and Bernstein were stationed at Fort Lewis in 1958.  Pillage was a clerk who worked in the fort's printing office.  Bernstein was the post's artist.

Their paths crossed, and Bernstein painted a portrait of Pileggi from a photograph provided by Pillage to him.

"My Army buddy Saul painted that from a photograph," wrote retired Maj. William Pileggi (USAR), in recollecting what his father had said about the portrait.

Looking for a story with a human-interest angle, Berger then wrote an article entitled, "Bernstein's Art Study Continues as Post Special Services Artist."

The article appeared on the upper left-hand side of page 12 in the Feb. 14, 1958, issue of The Ranger newspaper.  With it is a photograph of Bernstein holding the portrait of Thommas Pileggi.

"My father often spoke about his time at Fort Lewis and how beautiful Mount Rainier looked, but only mentioned the article a few times.  I figured it was lost," continued Pileggi.

It wasn't lost.

As Pileggi acknowledges now, both the article on his father and the painting of his grandfather hung on a wall in his grandmother's house from 1958 through 2002.

In May of 2010, Pillage passed away. Pileggi wrapped the portrait and news article in plastic and cardboard and took them to his house and put them in a closet.

On Saturday, March 11 of this year, Pileggi rediscovered and revisited the article, the portrait, and began to wonder about the artist.

A Google search led him to Saul Bernstein and the present Ranger newspaper.

"I think it's amazing that my father (Pillage) and Mr. Bernstein met some sixty years ago at Fort Lewis, and here I am reading an issue of your post newspaper from 1958 and connecting the dots," Pileggi wrote.

The soldier who painted the dots was Spc. Saul Bernstein.

"My hero was General MacArthur, and I did a pencil portrait of him," related Bernstein in an email.

His third grade teacher, Mrs. Lincoln, saw the portrait and sent it to the Daily News, now the LA Times.

"As it was published full page, my family was visited by the art teacher from the local high school."

Bernstein soon was immersed in art.

In 1956, his life took a turn as he was drafted into the Army.  He completed his basic training - and his two-year hitch - at Fort Lewis.

"In basic training, they learned about my art, and they needed someone to do all kinds of art," continued Bernstein.

"One of my works was a large mural urging everyone to vote."

When Gen. William Quinn, then Fort Lewis commander, saw the mural, he made sure Bernstein did not leave the post.

When not engaged in painting for the Army, Bernstein taught art to soldiers and their families.

He is not sure, however, when he met Pillage.

"I don't remember how I met Ralph Pillage," he wrote, "but I do remember doing the portrait."

After his service in the Army, Bernstein went on to become the top microcomputer artist in the country.  One publication labeled him the "Pixel Picasso."

"The Army was very, very good to me," concluded Bernstein.  

"I have never been back to Fort Lewis, but I have wonderful memories."

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