WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Saturday announced his first recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and two of the honorees have Las Vegas connections: local physician and philanthropist Dr. Miriam Adelson and the late musical legend Elvis Presley.
The nation’s highest civilian honor also will be given to Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is retiring after more than 41 years in the U.S. Senate; former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach; and Alan Page, who served on the Minnesota Supreme Court after a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. Trump will also posthumously recognize the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the late baseball legend Babe Ruth in a Friday ceremony.
Adelson will receive the medal in recognition of her work as a philanthropist, humanitarian and doctor specializing in the treatment of narcotic addiction, according to the White House. She also was lauded, along with her husband, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, for supporting Holocaust memorial organizations, Jewish schools, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Birthright Israel, which has sent some 600,000 young Jews from around the world to visit Israel.
“I am deeply humbled and moved by this exceptional honor,” Dr. Adelson said in a statement that recalled her parents’ journey as young Jews who, as the Holocaust loomed, fled Poland for Israel, where she was born.
“Liberty is at the heart of my decades of work against substance abuse,” she said. “Drug dependency is enslavement, for the user and his or her family and society, and treatment an emancipation.”
The Adelsons, who own the Las Vegas Review-Journal, have donated millions of dollars to Trump and the Republican Party. The Center for Responsive Politics lists the Adelsons as the nation’s largest contributors to independent expenditure organizations in the 2018 election cycle.
The Adelsons’ political contributions triggered criticism on social media that the donations influenced Trump’s decision to bestow the accolade, but Trump is not the only president to face criticism for his selection of Medal of Freedom recipients.
President Barack Obama presented the medal, which recognizes “meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States,” to, among others, his vice president, Joe Biden; former President Bill Clinton; top Hollywood Democratic donors and fundraisers including Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres; billionaire donor, fundraiser and political supporter Warren Buffett; and rock star Bruce Springsteen, who has performed at many Democratic fundraisers.
Presley is a music and movie legend who ended his career as a Las Vegas headliner before his death in 1977. His legacy and likeness remain linked to the city through impersonators and tribute acts.
Hatch represented Utah for more than 41 years as one of the longest serving senators in U.S. history. He is currently the Senate’s president pro tempore and the Senate Finance committee chairman.
Page played for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears during a 15-year NFL career, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988. After his NFL career, Page went on to become a member of the Minnesota Supreme Court for more than 20 years.
Ruth remains an iconic baseball star after playing for three teams between 1914 and 1935. He set numerous records and led the New York Yankees to four World Series championships.
After an unanimous confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, Scalia remained an important member of the court until his death on February 13, 2016. Appointed by President Ronald Reagan, the conservative justice was known for his strict constitutional interpretation and authored nearly 900 Supreme Court opinions.
Staubach played for 11 seasons in the NFL and twice won the Super Bowl with the Dallas Cowboys. He was a Vietnam War veteran and worked with many charitable organizations after his football career, including the United Way of America, the Children’s Scholarship Fund and Allies in Service.
Trump was in Paris on Saturday celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and provided no additional comment.
Christopher J. Scalia, son of the late Supreme Court justice, tweeted, “Very proud that my father will receive the Medal of Freedom. That he’s getting it with Elvis is icing on the cake.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.
Miriam Adelson statement
Las Vegas physician and philanthropist Dr. Miriam Adelson released this statement Saturday after being notified that she would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor:
“I am deeply humbled and moved by this exceptional honor.
“Some 85 years ago, my parents, Menucha and Symcha, were young Jews in a Poland where anti-Semitism was rife and the Holocaust loomed. They yearned for freedom — from persecution and from fear — and they found it in the State of Israel. They raised me to cherish and fight for liberty, a value that Israel continues to exemplify, against the odds, and which the United States, my adopted home, champions all over the world.
“Liberty is at the heart of my decades of work against substance abuse. Drug dependency is enslavement, for the user and his or her family and society, and treatment an emancipation.
“Together, my husband, Sheldon, and I have dedicated our lives to freedom: to a free market that benefits the greater good and to philanthropic endeavors that succor those suffering from poverty and disease.
“How proud my parents would be today.
“I would like to dedicate this honor to them, to Sheldon and to our children and grandchildren — and to the freedom-loving people of the United States and Israel.
“Thank you, President Trump.
“And thank you, America. May the torch of liberty forever burn bright for all to see.”