Anzac Day is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations” and “the contribution and suffering of all those who have served”.
The day is now also observed in Saranac Lake, in particular remembrance of Australian Army Captain Paul McKay who, suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traveled to Saranac Lake and ended his life of Scarface Mountain.
On Anzac Day each year, members of the St. Joseph’s family join a growing number of officials, veterans, and other residents of the extended community to honor Captain McKay’s, and his family’s, service and sacrifice. In the process, the day has become meaningful to Veterans in treatment at St. Joseph’s Col. C. David Merkel, MD Veterans Residence.
This past week, Veteran resident, Richard S, climbed Scarface Mountain with a contingent including Captain Hinds and Sergeant Malcolm of the Australian Army to remember Captain McKay, and I share his thoughts below:
On April 25 of this year I was given the unique opportunity of participating in a hike to commemorate ANZAC day, a day Australian and New Zealand citizens alike recognize the sacrifice made by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 where over 10,000 soldiers lost their lives attempting to open the passageway to the Black Sea for Allied forces in World War 1. The hike also holds special significance for the community of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid as a member of the Australian Army, Capt. Paul McKay tragically took his own life on Mount Scarface where his body was found on January 15, 2014 by New York State Forest Rangers. The opportunity to participate in this hike was an incredible honor and a very emotional one for me personally as Capt. McKay reportedly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his time serving in Afghanistan in 2011, a condition I suffer with myself from my time served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 1998-2001. During the hike I had the opportunity to speak with Capt. Hinds and Sergeant Malcolm of the Australian Army who flew up from Washington DC to take part in the hike as well as the ceremony held afterwards in Saranac Lake commemorating ANZAC day. They were able to explain the significance of ANZAC day to them and what having our small town and the veterans of St. Josephs participate in remembering Capt. McKay meant to them. Upon arriving at Capt. McKay’s final resting spot, I was overcome with emotion at the realization that I was standing in the very spot Capt. McKay chose to end his life. Seeing that very spot and looking out at what Capt. McKay saw as he drew his final breath was incredibly emotional, a feeling I still remember to this day. Looking around at the somber faces of my fellow veterans reminded me of the frailty we all have as human beings and especially as ones who have served in similar AO’s (Areas of Operation), the sacrifice we all made during our time served. The tragedy of Capt. McKay highlights the trauma many of us endure, even years after our service has ended. The emotions I felt, as well as the emotions etched on the faces of my fellow veterans as we took in the moments shared with Capt. McKay on the mountain that morning are poignant reminders of the horrors of war and the debilitating effects of PTSD long after. I was honored to have been given the opportunity to remember a fellow soldier on his final tour of duty on Scarface mountain and to share that experience with other veterans and can only hope that Capt. McKay’s story is one that can offer a beacon of light to the hardships many of endure on a daily basis and offer hope to those who may feel how Capt. McKay must have felt as he sat against that boulder atop Mount Scarface on that fateful day gazing into the abyss of despair and hopelessness. May his sacrifice never be forgotten and his story never lost.