Giving thanks to vets, Vegas-style

For Americans in uniform, few words are more welcome than "at ease." And on this Sunday Morning before Veterans Day, we salute a civilian who goes all-out to put wounded heroes at ease - and then some. Our cover story is reported by Seth Doane:

For what seems an eternity our country has been fixated on the election, the roller-coaster ride on Wall Street, and our faltering economy.

Through it all, the fact that we are a nation at war seems almost an after-thought.

Lest we forget, since 2001 more than one-and-a-half million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, battling the Taliban, and toppling the regime of Saddam Hussein.

To date, 4780 Americans have died, more than 30,000 wounded in cities and deserts far from home.

Seven thousand miles and a world away, Sheldon Adelson (a veteran himself) is on a mission: to make our troops a priority again.

And he wants us to start with a simple "thank you," because he thinks they aren't being thanked enough.

"Absolutely, they're not being thanked at all," Adelson told Doane. "They're forgotten, they're out of sight, out of mind."

Hotelier Sheldon Adelson greets veterans, his guests for a Las Vegas vacation.
CBS

He and his wife Miriam wanted to set an example, so they opened their hearts - and their wallets - and that's saying something, considering Sheldon Adelson is CEO of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and worth an estimated $26 billion.

Doane asked, how did he come up with the idea of doing something on a very big scale?

"Well, even though I'm a small guy, I never approach anything on a small scale," he laughed.

Adelson started bringing wounded veterans to Las Vegas for a 5 day, 4-star, all-expense paid vacation at one of the hotels he owns, which just happens to be the Venetian, the largest hotel in the world.

So early one morning a few weeks back, a group of 50 wounded veterans, their spouses and companions left the Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland and climbed aboard Adelson's private 747.

"Welcome aboard, nice to see you," the captain greeted them. "Come on in, make yourself at home."

It didn't take long for them to realize they were in for a treat.

"You're on one of his private jets - he has 14 of them," Patricia Driscoll, president of the Armed Forces Foundation (a non-profit veterans support group which organized the trip), told the guests. "We have the great Venetian staff here to serve you. We'll have a buffet when we set down."

From the moment they landed - an American flag waving from the pilot's window - the thanks started pouring in, first from a surprise guest, Lance Armstrong.

"As an American, as a father of three young kids, thank you," he told them. "Thank you for your service, and thank you for helping to defend our freedom and our great country."

Staff at the Venetian in Las Vegas welcome their guests, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan
CBS

It was a memorable reception, but nothing compared to what was waiting for them at the Venetian: a full-blown walk of heroes.

"It's just hugs, handshakes," said one veteran, Sam Ickiss. "I couldn't even imagine something like this. I mean, when we landed, if we turned around and flew back, that would have been great."

Ickiss served in Iraq until a shoulder injury forced him home. His companion Wanda Siles was overcome by the welcome.

"It's very humbling, it truly is." She said.

"Why so emotional?" asked Doane.

"The support and patriotism, overwhelming support, everywhere you go," she said, tearing.

"It seemed to me that every person in Las Vegas was there to meet us, clapping and cheering," said Joe Caputo.

Caputo is a Marine whose Humvee was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device) while on patrol in Iraq.

"You just see a flash, the explosion hit, and the driver was able to keep the vehicle from flipping over," he said.

He lost his hearing in one ear, but miraculously escaped other serious injury.

Marine Joe Caputo and wife Nadine, guests at Sheldon Adelson's Venetian in Las Vegas, with Seth Doane.
CBS

He and his wife Nadine were shown to their luxury hotel room.

"It definitely is bigger than our house," he said.

For Joe and Nadine, the room was just the beginning.

"I know that this isn't the only place that has rooms like this, but this is the only place that would give a room like this to, you know, I guess common folk like us," he said.

The veterans had private cabanas by the pool.

"Somebody had mentioned yesterday that we'd be getting the rock star treatment, and I don't even know if rock stars have it this good, to be honest," one vet said.

There were dinners at gourmet restaurants, a different show every night, and a paddle-boat tour of nearby Lake Mead, giving the veterans a chance to unwind … and unburden themselves among friends.

They were so pampered, Joe Caputo couldn't help thinking of his fellow Marines still in harm's way.

"I'm sitting here, in Las Vegas, you know, in the lap of luxury, I've got my beautiful wife, and, you know, there's guys over there right now," he said. "They're sitting there in that desert sun. They're fighting it out, day in and night."

"Are you conflicted about that?" Doane asked.

"Yeah, definitely conflicted. Definitely conflicted."