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Brian Haynes

Venetian welcomes wounded soldiers

23 May 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The wounded troops didn't know what awaited them once they stepped on the red carpet outside The Venetian on Thursday.

Inside, hundreds of hotel employees waited. Their cheers and applause filled the column-lined entry hall. Red, white and blue banners hung overhead.

It was just the hero's welcome that Sheldon Adelson wanted for the 40 wounded warriors who temporarily left behind Walter Reed Army Medical Center or National Naval Medical Center for an all-expenses-paid Memorial Day weekend at Adelson's resort.

"Can you imagine what these people do for us?" he said. "And no one says, 'Thank you.'"

The billionaire resort owner conceived the dream weekend after attending the March gala for the Armed Forces Foundation, a charity in Washington, D.C., that provides financial support, counseling and other services to veterans and their families.

Foundation President Patricia Driscoll said she had never seen anything like the reception the hotel gave the troops, and she teared up when they walked in.

"This is over the top," she said.

The foundation helped organize the trip, which began with a flight from Virginia on Adelson's custom 747 airliner.

The service members will stay in suites in the Palazzo tower and be treated to meals at any of the resort's restaurants, to poolside cabanas, show tickets and other perks.

"They have the run of the house," Adelson said.

Before leaving Washington on Thursday, the troops were given a send-off by members of Congress, including Nevada Republicans Jon Porter and Dean Heller.

"Mr. Adelson and his family at The Venetian are going as far as they can to show the men and women in uniform how much they care, but also it's part of the hospitality of Las Vegas," Porter said.

Adelson said he would offer the VIP weekend to every hospitalized wounded service member who wanted it, and he challenged other business owners to do the same.

Driscoll said she would have no problem finding volunteers for the next trip.

"We'll probably have to beat them off with a stick," she said.

One of the wounded service members, Army Spec. Matthew Reilly, said he looked forward to the Las Vegas vacation after nearly four months of medical treatment at Walter Reed.

The 30-year-old medic suffered head and spinal injuries in January while serving in Diyala province in Iraq.

Reilly said he was overwhelmed by the reception, which only added to the internal conflict he felt by taking the trip.

"I feel guilty sometimes," he said. "My brothers are still over there (in Iraq), and I'm in Vegas."

When he started questioning whether he deserved the hero's welcome, his wife, Katherine, cut him off.

"Yes," she said, "he does."