SARANAC LAKE — This is a community that Australian Army Capt. Paul McKay never really knew.
But the search for the soldier by local authorities and an outpouring of public support struck a chord half a world away.
McKay’s body was found near the summit of Scarface Mountain last Thursday; he'd been missing since Dec. 31.
Autopsy reports say he died of hypothermia; the coroner ruled it suicide.
Those trying to find him understood he suffered with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological condition marked by anxiety, often caused by trauma experienced in a war zone. McKay saw active duty in Afghanistan.
'I AM GRIEVING'
Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau expressed sorrow for the man's death in a statement posted on social media on Friday, beginning with, "I am grieving today ..."
And his words released a torrent of response, both here and from afar.
Between Friday and Monday morning, there had been more than 200,000 views of the mayor’s Facebook post and nearly 650 replies, he told the Press-Republican.
“Moreover, it’s the huge outpouring of emotion from literally halfway around the globe,” Rabideau said of McKay’s hometown of Canberra, Australia.
“The biggest lesson of all is that the world is getting smaller and smaller; people are the same the world ‘round.”
In addition, Rabideau is getting scores of private email from people in Australia.
“The emails are from everybody soldiers that served with (McKay), mothers of soldiers, soldiers that are just soldiers. But there seems to be a link we’ve made with thousands of people in Australia, we have a common bond," he said.
"It was meant to be that tens of thousands of people have come to know PTSD more, and perhaps there will be a more positive silver lining as the years go by."
Rabideau has communicated with McKay’s family and invited them to Saranac Lake.
“His father said when the pain has dulled he does plan a visit,” the mayor said.
He also promised one of McKay’s associates he would place a poppy a symbol of remembrance at Scarface Mountain.
“I think it would be appropriate to host a memorial service at the (Saranac Lake) Veteran’s Club or at Scarface later this year, whenever it’s appropriate," the mayor said.
Australia, Rabideau learned, observes ANZAC Day, to honor the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, on April 25, similar to Memorial Day in the United States.
The growing ties between McKay's home in Australia and Saranac Lake seem meant to be, the mayor said.
"I’m starting to come to grips with what’s next," he said, expressing awe at the outpouring of grief and awareness about PTSD.
"The memorial service is next.”
Facebook responses to the mayor’s message are poignant and heartfelt.
Patty Martin Garrelts, who works in Tupper Lake, thanked the mayor for his words.
“We forget how people suffer in silence and how unfair the loss of life is. The world needs to take a look at how affected our soldiers (are) and do something about it. It’s a very serious issue.”
Australian Kate Eddy shared nearly the same sentiment some 7,000 miles from here: “RIP soldier and thank you. Maybe this can be the wake up call to all governments that PTSD is a real disability and more support can be given to our returned servicemen and women.”
David Macca Essex, who attended school in Adelaide, Australia, also shared his thoughts about McKay’s tragic death.
“War is futile but the service of a soldier and the uncertainty of maybe giving your life to it isn’t. RIP digger (Australian soldier), may you now live in peace in His kingdom.”
“To Mayor Clyde Rabideau,” wrote Peter Solomon. “From an Australian veteran, simply respect and thank you.”
And from former Australian Army medic Phil Wilkin came this: “To Mayor Clyde Rabideau. I wish to say thanks mate and to your police service and other emergency service volunteers thanks fellas for finding our digger. As an ex Aussie Army medic myself, he must've gone through some major stress. A sad loss to all. M(a)y he RIP, Lest We Forget. 'Duty First.'”
There is also a response from McKay’s father, John McKay:
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mayor Rabideau, for your kind words and thanks to all the wonderful people who helped in the search for our beloved son.
"I am just so glad that I hugged Paul the last time I fare-welled him days before died.
"We are struggling to come to grips with our loss, but Paul will soon be headed home so we can all say farewell to this proud young man who has now found peace after a period of illness.”
Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedampressrepublican.com
EXPRESSION OF SORROW
Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau posted this message on Facebook last Friday:
"I AM GRIEVING TODAY. A young man…a soldier from Australia…somehow…inexplicably…chose Saranac Lake to be his final resting place, as it appears. I only know him by his photographs. He looks handsome, virile and strong…not unlike my son and sons of so many readers of this post…yet he decided to cross the globe and trek onto our local mountain where he died…after reportedly giving all his possessions away to his dad by e-mail just before he filled a backpack without a tent or sleeping bag two weeks ago…amidst below-zero temps...and then sauntered off to nearby Scarface Mountain where his body was found today. I am sorry for his loss and offer our community condolences to his Australian family, which I will invite to our Adirondack community...as our guests, so that we can show respect for this young man, his military service and offer whatever solace we can to a mother, father and family that must be so hurt…searching for answers and looking for whatever divine rationale there could ever be in this experience. It strikes home to me and many here. May he rest in peace." Read more at: https://www.facebook.com/MayorClydeRabideau