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Hill Thanks The Troops, Veterans

A weekend packed with Memorial Day events will kick off this Thursday in the Rayburn House Office Building, where 40 war veterans and their families will gather to embark on a complimentary weekend trip to The Venetian Resort Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

The 40 service members were selected from those most recently wounded and sent to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for care. The hospitals considered both mental and physical health conditions.

Sheldon Adelson, who chairs the Las Vegas Sands Corp. that owns the Venetian and was honored with a March Patriot Award for outstanding dedication to the military community, will welcome the soldiers to the resort with his wife, Miriam. Throughout the weekend, the 40 service members and their families will have the opportunity to attend special events including performances of “The Phantom of the Opera,” the Blue Man Group and “The Wayne Brady Show.”

A similar event was held on Aug. 5, 2007, after the Armed Forces Foundation reached out to the Venetian to sponsor a trip for military families. The August getaway allowed 600 service members from the Nellis Air Force Base and their families to visit Las Vegas. This weekend marks the first time such an event will be held in honor of Memorial Day.

The formal Capitol Hill send-off ceremony for the soldiers and their families will be at 11 a.m. Thursday in room 2212 of the Rayburn Building. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Reps. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) and Bill Young (R-Fla.) and Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) will host the ceremony, but officials from the Armed Forces Foundation and the Department of Defense will also be present to honor the wounded soldiers.

Meanwhile, other Members will travel to Memorial Day events around Washington, D.C., or in their home states.

Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, will return to Honolulu this weekend to attend ceremonies at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the “Punchbowl,” and the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery. When he returns to the District on Monday, Akaka will host a meet-and-greet with Filipino veterans from World War II.

Veterans’ Affairs ranking member Richard Burr (R-N.C.) will travel home this weekend to attend Memorial Day ceremonies in both Lewisville and King, N.C., on Tuesday.

And independent of Congress, a variety of Memorial Day events will occur around Capitol Hill.

On Sunday, the free National Memorial Day Concert will be held on the West Lawn of the Capitol, with gates opening at 5 p.m. Co-hosted by actors Gary Sinise of “CSI: New York” (who also co-starred in “Forrest Gump” playing Lt. Dan) and Tony Award-winning Joe Mantegna of “Criminal Minds,” the concert will feature music, documentary footage and dramatic readings to honor those who have served in the United States military forces.

A variety of well-known figures will also make appearances at this year’s concert including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, World War II veteran and character actor Charles Durning, actor and comedian Denis Leary, actress Sarah Brightman, singer Gladys Knight, conductor Erich Kunzel and the National Symphony Orchestra.

The concert will be broadcast live from 8 to 9:30 p.m. on PBS and American Forces Radio and Television Network so that the U.S. Armed Forces and Department of Defense civilian employees and their families stationed overseas can also enjoy the performance. The concert has become a Washington tradition after 17 years, and draws more than 300,000 people annually.

Also on Sunday, thousands of motorcycles will drive from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial beginning at noon to advocate for veterans benefits during the Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally.

And at 1 p.m. Monday, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who has served as Army chief of staff since April 2007, will speak at the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; a wreath-laying service will also occur.

At 2 p.m., the National Memorial Day Parade will make its third appearance beginning at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and Seventh Street Northwest. The parade, composed of marching bands, youth groups, and veterans units from all 50 states, as well as helium-filled balloons and patriotic floats, drew more than 250,000 spectators last year.

Finally, a photographic exhibit will be on display through Sept. 2 at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, showing soldier experiences from the Civil War to Iraq.

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