Quinn pays tribute to plane crash victims

April 13, 2010 2:48:18 PM PDT
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn signed a condolence book at the Polish consulate Tuesday, accompanied by two members of the Illinois National Guard who served with one of the crash victims.

The Polish consulate general said he's been overwhelmed by the support from Chicago. On Tuesday, it wasn't just the Polish president who was being remembered, but also a general who was killed in Saturday's plane crash in Russia.

Poland's Gen. Tadeusz Buk led combat operations and some Illinois National Guard members involved in activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. He died along with 95 others in a plane crash over the weekend. Poland's president and first lady were also killed in that crash.

Governor Quinn signed the condolence book and spoke of the special relationship between Poland and the people of Illinois. Polish President Lech Kaczynski visited Chicago a few years ago and was scheduled to return to be part of the Polish Constitution Day Parade in a few weeks.

"All of our hearts are heavy," said Quinn.

Quinn was joined by members of the Illinois National Guard, several of whom personally knew another General Buk. The Polish military man led multi-national units in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"General Buk was a leader who willing to take risks to get things done," said Lt. Col. Matthew Voyles, Illinois National Guard.

Lt. Colonel Voyles was among a dozen who reported directly to General Buk in Iraq in 2007.

"When General Buk came in, we were taking it pretty rough. And General Buk decided immediately he was going to take the fight to the enemy," said Voyles.

That strategy included moving units out of bases and into neighborhoods. The general recognized insurgents were being paid to attack troops. Buk determined their motivator was more economic than ideological.

"One of the things he put in place was we pushed micro-grants and business development. Under him we went out, rebuilt schools and infrastructure," said Voyles.

Colonel Michael Haerr worked with General Buk in Afghanistan where he didn't hide behind rules of engagement others countries used to limit their risk.

"The Poles worked hard to do whatever it was Afghans and Americans were doing. There was no 'we're not going to do this mission,'" said Col. Michael Haerr, Illinois National Guard.

Organizers of the May 1 Polish Constitution Day Parade said Tuesday the show will go on with special remembrances for the plane crash victims.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski was due to attend. Top members of his advance team were scheduled to arrive in Chicago this weekend.

"Unfortunately?my dear colleague was on the plane with the president," said Zygmunt Matynia, Consul General of Poland.

Parade planners will meet this weekend to discuss ways to appropriately honor the memories of the president and his delegation. This will be the 119th year Chicagoans have honored Polish Constitution Day with a parade. They marched during World Wars I and II and during the Soviet occupation. One parade official said they've learned "to adapt to the times."