May 5, 2014

Cheers and Jeers: May 5, 2014

CHEERS to Mayor Clyde Rabideau, the Rev. Col. Eric Olsen and the Saranac Lake community for their tender response to the death of an Australian soldier last fall.

Bedeviled by the traumas of war and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Australian Army Capt. Paul McKay arrived in Saranac Lake last January. Not long after, he hiked to the summit of Scarface Mountain and stayed there until he died of hypothermia.

During the time he was missing, before his body was found, state and local officials and community volunteers conducted an expansive, two-week search.

Mayor Rabideau and Olsen, executive director of Homeward Bound Adirondacks, reached out to McKay’s distraught family, maintaining connections with them throughout the ordeal.

The sadness when McKay’s body was located was felt keenly by Americans and Australians alike. Community leaders and citizens turned out to line the streets as a funeral procession carried his body past, on the way to be returned to his family for cremation.

Then, on ANZAC Day, a memorial day in Australia and New Zealand, Rabideau and Olsen organized a memorial in Saranac Lake for McKay.

It started with a small party of hikers — including the mayor, who was on crutches after surgery — hiking Scarface Mountain to salute McKay at the place where he died by suicide.

That was followed by a public service that drew a large number of people. Flags of both countries were flown over the memorial park, both national anthems were sung aloud, and speakers remembered McKay and the disorder that claimed his life.

Crossing national boundaries, the commemoration touched many hearts and lives — including those of the fallen soldier’s family in Australia.

It was affirming to see that kind of tribute, celebrating the service of veterans and raising awareness about post-traumatic stress, which knows no national, social, cultural, rank or racial boundaries.

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