Elizabeth Laird never forgot the soldiers who came and went from Fort Hood during the 12 years she was the fort’s “Hug Lady.”
Now, they will never forget her.
On Monday, Fort Hood dedicated a room in Fort Hood’s terminal to Laird, who from 2003 until her death in 2015 made sure that service members departing the Texas base or arriving home after a deployment had a hug.
“I just called her Ms. Elizabeth,” said Col. Brian Chepey, the incoming chaplain. “For me, it was really a foretaste of Heaven. That physical embrace really is, to me, an expression of one aspect of God’s love for us.”
No one kept an exact count, but the estimate used by her supporters was that she gave out about 500,000 hugs in her 12 years as “The Hug Lady.”
“The active component of your Army, today, is not even 470,000. She hugged the entire Army.” Lt. Gen. Pat White said during the dedication ceremony.
Prioir to the room dedication, some troops at Fort Hood wanted the air terminal named after her, and started a petition on Change.org that was unsuccessful. The terminal could not be changed because it was named for Army Sgt. George Larkin, who flew in the Doolittle raid during World War II.
As part of that effort, Linda Carter reproduced Laird’s obituary on her Facebook page.
One section of the obituary explained how Laird started hugging service members.
“In 2003, when soldiers were coming and going to the Middle East she wanted to show her appreciation for what they were doing and while volunteering with the Salvation Army; she began shaking hands which led to giving each one a hug.”
“Elizabeth received orders from CSM Galney to hug every one of his troops when leaving and returning from overseas and that started her final career as the ‘Hug Lady,'” the post said, quoting the obituary.
“This was her love-many times talking about the look in the soldier’s eyes, how proud they were to serve their country to protect their loved ones at home. They love God, their family and their country,” the post added.
Rick Dewees, Laird’s son, said that the troops repaid her kindness.
“Mom would always say, ‘My troops need me,'” Dewees said. “She wasn’t lying, though. Her troops loved her. What they showed when she was in the hospital, she couldn’t come to them. So, they came to her.”
Service members said Laird was a bridge to home for them.
On the petition, Merrill Davidson said her hug made him “cry with joy” when he returned from a deployment in Afghanistan.
“I lost a buddy to a roadside bomb less than a month before,” Davidson said. “I didn’t have any family meeting me that day and I was so depressed. Her hug made me cry with joy. I thought I didn’t have anyone there that was happy to see me home that day until I realized there was one person there that was.”
Sgt. Christopher Peckham recalled Laird and the hug she gave him.
“I think she’s incredibly special,” Peckham said, KCEN reported.
“She cared, she genuinely cared. It wasn’t something she was told to do. She did it from the kindness of her heart and she cared for each and every person who walked through these doors.”
Susan Taylor said her mother enjoyed giving service members a share of her love.
“She loved the soldiers especially and loved people as a whole. Her mission of course, with the soldiers, she just loved people and wanted to show the love of God,” she said.
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