"Brave Polish patriots."
Those are the words Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn used to describe late Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria and the 94 others who died when their plane plowed into a Russian forest over the weekend.
Quinn was among the dignitaries who came to the Polish consulate on Lake Shore Drive to sign a book of condolences.
"The people of Poland can be very, very proud of those who give their last full measure of devotion to the cause of democracy," Quinn said.
The Governor also presented Consul General Zygmunt Matynia with a flag that had been flown at half-staff over the Illinois Capitol building.
Standing with Quinn were 13 Illinois National Guardsmen who served with Polish forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many, like Lt. Col. Mathew Voyles, had served under the Commander of Polish Land Forces, Major General Tadeusz Buk, who also died in the crash.
"General Buk came in with a strong desire to make a mark, to make things better," Voyles said. "He said 'I am only here for six months, so we better get started.'"
Mayor Richard Daley also offered his prayers as he cut the ribbon of the new Palomar hotel in River North.
"We are all grieving and mourning the loss of a great leader here, in Poland and throughout the world," he said.
Kaczynski was set to participate in the May 1 Polish Constitution Day Parade in Chicago. According to the Consul General, the President’s top aide, Mariusz Handzlik, was supposed to be flying into O'Hare Sunday to make the final arrangements. He too was killed in the crash.
Parade organizers say the annual event, the largest of its kind outside of Poland, will go on in honor of those who were killed. Matynia said this year's parade will have a different tone than in years past.
"It will be unique," he said.