The Low Valleys Of North Africa

Author: Ken Harada, A Company
Puka Puka Parades, May 1959, vol. 12 no. 5

Sgt. Ken Harada reminisces of the beginning of War in Africa where he had to tell Spooky of his fathers death

The former Sergeant lit a cigarette and continued his story while his listeners began to quiet down as if they expected to hear about an experience commonly shared. The evening had begun with ribald stories, but now the mood had changed into one of nostalgia and sentimentality.

“Spooky grumbled as he followed me out of the tent; as usual he was on the losing end of a poker game. He thought I was going to give him another detail and began to tell me that he had just come from one. ‘No, Spooky,’ I said, ‘I’m not going to send you on any detail, but I have something to tell you.” I looked at him, and he wasn’t trying to listen to what I had to say. He wanted to hurry back to that poker game. ‘I don’t know how to tell you this, Spooky’, I fumbled, then I blurted out the truth that the Captain had received a wire of Spooky’s father’s death. I thought the matter-of-fact approach was the best way of telling him the bad news, but it was not as easy as I had thought. His round eyes clung to me for a second, then they shifted to the ground, and he slowly turned away from me. ‘I’m sorry, Spooky,’ I said quite helplessly, not knowing what else I could say or do. He slowly

walked down toward the bare knoll on the reverse side of which we had our slit trenches dug. There are moments when you feel completely helpless, you know–you can patch up a man dying from a gaping wound and light him a cigarette and ease his dying and feel you were of same help, but you just can’t patch up what goes on in a man’s mind or heart. Only time heals that sort of thing. So there Spooky was, sitting on the brown bare knoll, his head buried in his arms, his shoulders trembling. From a distance he looked like a small round ball on top of that bare knoll. The men had lived together for a long time now, and almost no secret was hidden from each other. But they knew that this was one occasion when they should stay away. They looked furtively at Spooky but stayed away so he could cry unabashedly.

“A few minutes later, a couple of ME 109s swooped over on a harassing raid. Amid the din and the shooting, we ran for our slit trenches on the other side of the knoll. It was a matter of seconds. We felt lead kicking up the hot dust around us, and the dust stirred up by the bullets rose in a line as the MEs roared away.

“In my confusion I had forgotten Spooky completely. I thought he had crept into one of the holes long before we were able to get into ours. After the safety signal was given, I thought of Spooky.

“Spooky was still sitting on the knoll, his head buried in his arms,

He was not sobbing anymore, but he seemed to be clearing the last tears from his eyes and nose. ‘Spooky, are you all right?’ I said, rather ashamed that I had never thought of him sooner.

“In the deepness of his personal grief, he had forgotten that there was a war around him. Or if he knew, the war had not mattered for a brief moment. I sat next to him, saying nothing. We just sat and looked out from that knoll to the gentle, brown plain which ran for about fifteen miles before it reached the Mediterranean.

“I don’t know what he was thinking, but it seemed to me as if there

had come a sudden understanding between him and me–an instant rapport, you might say, which gave me an insight into his true nature. The afternoon world seemed particularly immense that instant.

Already a low fog started to creep over the low valleys from the sea. “The old man was the only one I had’, Spooky said finally.

“That night when we moved by truck through the dusty hillsides to Oran, the fog came in and covered all the low areas of Camp #11.

That night I slept beside Spooky on the deck of the transport, thinking about the mysterious forces of such stuff that make guys like Spooky and me. From then on Spooky and I stayed close to each


“It’s funny when you think about it. No matter how big the war is, it is your tiny part in it that really matters. Death comes to a

million guys like us but death and the terror of death come as a

reality only to the individual in a few fleeting moments. I think

Spooky never felt the danger of the ME 109s that day because he grieved so much that nothing mattered. I just felt that he did.

The former Sergeant shifted in his chair, and lit a cigarette.

“The story has no dramatic ending. Spooky did not win any medals

in the war and was not killed. He came back from the war pretty

much the same guy–shiftless, you might say. I don’t know where

he is today, but I think he lives from day to day, from job to job.

“We are opposites in temperament; we have nothing in common, but I shall always remember him for that incident. Somehow I never thought he was capable of deep loyalties, or passions.”

The former Sergeant apparently had finished his story. His listeners started to smoke again, and soon the room was as foggy as the low valleys of North Africa.