Australian soldier’s parents will come here

(Editor’s note: This article has been corrected.)

SARANAC LAKE – The family of Capt. Paul McKay, an Australian soldier who died in Ray Brook this winter, plan to come here in May to spread his ashes atop Scarface Mountain.

Meanwhile, later this month, the local community will remember their son on Anzac Day.

Anzac Day, April 25, is a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand to honor those who served and died in war, similar to the U.S.’s Memorial Day and Veterans Day. It is named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) and especially recalls their fierce fighting in the Gallipoli Peninsula against the Ottoman Empire in World War I.

McKay, a 31-year-old veteran of the war in Afghanistan, came without notice to Saranac Lake in December and hiked off into the woods on New Year’s Eve. After an extensive multi-agency search operation, a forest ranger found him dead on Jan. 15 on Scarface Mountain in Ray Brook. A coroner ruled his death as suicide by hypothermia.

On Jan. 23, some local people gathered to formally send McKay’s body on its way from the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home in Saranac Lake to Queens, from which it was flown to Australia for a funeral.

Now John and Angela McKay plan to return here in May to scatter his ashes where he died. Their daughter will accompany them, Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau said.

“We hope to put a couple of seats on the hike up Scarface Mountain in memory of Paul and scatter his ashes where he was found,” Angela McKay said in a Facebook message to the Canberra Times, an Australian newspaper, which reported it Sunday.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Dave Winchell told the Enterprise this morning, “We will be placing two benches along the trail to Scarface Mountain somewhere near the foot bridge over Ray Brook; the exact location has not been determined. One of the benches will have a memorial plaque for Paul McKay. Money will be donated for the materials for the benches and they will be located on lands classified as ‘intensive use.'”

DEC forest rangers will participate in both the McKays’ visit and in local Anzac Day events.

“When Capt. McKay passed away, there was a large emotional outpouring in our community and in Australia,” Rabideau told the Enterprise this morning. “One of Paul McKay’s friends asked me to put a single poppy at the spot where Paul McKay was found on Anzac Day.”

Rabideau said that, “being a typical American,” he didn’t know anything about Anzac Day, but he did know about the significance of the poppy from living so close to Canada, where poppies play a significant role in Remembrance Day ceremonies. That comes from “In Flanders Field,” a World War I battlefield poem by Canadian physician Lt. Col. John McCrae which begins, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row …”

The village and Homeward Bound Adirondacks, a Saranac Lake-based group that hopes to establish respite and retreat services here for veterans of recent wars, are organizing a few events that Friday to call to mind Anzac Day, Paul McKay and all those suffering from post-traumatic stress.

“We’re not saying ‘disorder,'” Rabideau said, because even if someone has not been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, that person can still suffer from natural stress related to trauma he or she has experienced, such as McKay’s experience in the Afghanistan war.

On April 25, after a small group hikes up Scarface Mountain to place a poppy there, Rabideau said there will be a memorial service at Saranac Lake’s World War I monument at the corner of River and Church streets, in conjunction with Homeward Bound. That will be an opportunity to talk about PTS, Rabideau said.

One Australian military veteran has committed to come for the ceremony, and more may come, too, Rabideau said.

Later that day in Tupper Lake, a film about PTS will be shown at the State Theater, owner Sally Strasser confirmed this morning. That evening, Rabideau said, there will be a spaghetti dinner at the Saranac Lake Fish and Game Club, a fundraiser for Homeward Bound Adirondacks.

“I can tell you from the emails and Facebook responses, there seems to be a significant bond between Australia and our Saranac Lake community,” Rabideau said.