His mom had spiffed him up into an adorably dapper little gentleman. It was an important day.
The all-grown-up ensemble aside, he was still only five years old and, when he saw his father marching down the street, he naturally took chase begging him to wait up.
Taken out of context, it was a delightful image for newspaper photographer Claude P. Dettloff, working for The Province at the time, to capture.
With his mother close behind, and racing to restrain him, the cherubic Whitey Bernard’s little arm is stretched out towards his father, who is smiling in his soldier’s uniform and reaching back towards his son. It’s not a happy photo. A family is being sacrificed for war.
‘Wait for me Daddy’ is iconic because it’s a real and powerful image. People cry when they see it. Behind the elder Bernard is a seemingly infinite single-file line of soldiers marching down a steep-hilled road in New Westminster. Beside them, families are clustered metres away. They could not stop their heroic husbands, sons and fathers from going.
They could not hold them. They could not know when they would see them again. Imagine trying to keep a stiff upper lip of support in that moment. Whitey’s plea did not fall on deaf ears. Canada and the world heard it as Detloff’s photo became an instant icon that was promoted around the globe. Young Whitey became the star of bond drives; a celebrity who was shuttled from event to event to bring hope to Canada’s war efforts. Stardom was not his pursuit when he broke free from his mother’s grasp that morning in New West. He was chasing a father who loved him, but could not wait for him.
It’s a famous moment that doesn’t need words to tell the story of sacrifice. Whitey saw his dad just once over the next five years and, when he finally returned for good, he was not the same man who had left. That story is still very relevant today. Families are still being sacrificed and children are wishing mommies and daddies had waited for them.
Recent news suggests some may have forgotten the sacrifice. Saudi Arabia is claiming Lebanon declared war against it this week and America’s president is speaking alarmingly loosely about the possibility of war with North Korea.