SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. — A blend of American and Australian military honors marked ANZAC Day here in remembrance of Australian Army Capt. Paul McKay, who died on Scarface Mountain in January.
His body was found near the summit after a two-week search in the bitter cold.
No one knows for certain why he chose to die there.
But his life has prompted reflection and attention to the unseen scars of war.
‘World of sorrow’
No family members were able to attend Friday’s events, but McKay’s mother, Angela McKay, sent a letter that Lt. Commander Kathryn McCabe of the Royal Australian Navy read aloud, pausing at times to compose herself.
“The locals took him to their hearts and made him one of their own,” she read.
“Sadly, Paul was never the same when he returned from Afghanistan.”
The letter described how Mrs. McKay’s lively and active son had retreated into silence and a world of sorrow.
Capt. McKay, family has said, suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.
“I sincerely believe,” Mrs. McKay wrote, “as he climbed Scarface, he would have experienced peace and tranquility. Paul’s spirit will always remain on Scarface Mountain …
“Now we give him back to God. Farewell, Paul, your brave struggle is finally over.”
‘Lest we forget’
A light wind sent a last hint of winter through the crowd gathered beside the World War I Memorial in the village. It tousled American and Australian flags raised together in the park and ruffled the red poppies pinned to coats and uniforms.
Australia’s chief of army, Gen. David Morrison, had dispatched attaché Major Cameron Satrapa of the Australian Defence Force from Washington, D.C., to take part in the Saranac Lake event.
ANZAC Day is a tribute to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps., much like Memorial Day in the United States.
It was Satrapa who brought the customs of their country, which often begin, he said, with services at dawn.
He read the “Ode of Remembrance,” explaining that some lines are to repeat from the crowd.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn ... We will remember them,” Satrapa recited.
And about 100 gathered answered: “We will remember them.”
“Lest we forget,” the major said.
Satrapa was one of seven, including Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau, who hiked at daybreak to the Scarface summit and placed a poppy where Capt. McKay was found.
The group also built a stone cairn at the site, the major said.
“It’s a very picturesque walk,” Satrapa told the Press-Republican, describing the mountaintop ceremony as “very peaceful and solemn.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent a citation, bearing a message of comfort directed to McKay’s family and fellow soldiers.
U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. (Ret.) Dr. Loree Sutton, who serves as chairwoman of Homeward Bound Adirondacks, said post traumatic stress from war knows no race, no social status, no rank or national boundary.
“War changes all of us,” she said. “PTS is as old as war itself. Some have asked: Does post traumatic stress cause suicide?”
There is, Sutton said, no answer to that.
‘We are one’
“Capt. McKay,” she said, looking to the sky. “I would like to dedicate a poem to you.”
She read a work of Archibald MacLeish.
“The young dead soldiers do not speak. … They say: We were young. We have died. Remember us. ... They say: Our deaths are not ours: they are yours, they will mean what you make them.”
Rabideau said the day was meant, with tremendous passion and reverence, to honor a soldier from half the world away.
“Today, we’re not a half a world away,” he said. “We are one.”
‘A good feeling’
Bagpipes drew groups of veterans, citizens and officials into an open garden, freshly mulched, daffodil spears pushed up through borders of new grass.
Australian officers laid a red, white and blue wreath of flowers on the memorial wall. Nearby, some 13 young Australian men looked on quietly.
They are all first-year students, studying and playing soccer at North Country Community College in Saranac Lake.
“It is unusual to experience ANZAC Day in another country,” said Andrew Lontis, who is from Adelaide.
And Liam Bryant, from Melbourne, said it was nice to feel something from home.
Sam Johns of Geelong said that though the circumstances were sad, “it is a good feeling here.
“And it’s good the community can celebrate this way.”