Fort Hood dedicated a room in the base’s air terminal to the resident “Hug Lady,” the late Elizabeth Corrine Laird on July 1.
From that very room, Laird gave a half a million hugs of comfort to soldiers over a 12-year span as they deployed and returned, until her death on Dec. 25, 2015 after a 10-year battle with breast cancer, The Fort Hood Sentinel reported.
Laird would give greeting and farewell hugs along with a card bearing the Bible’s protection prayer, Psalm 91, in an effort to back to the troops.
A petition was formed in May calling on Fort Hood to dedicate Laird’s “hug room” and name it after her, according to Military Times.
In Laird’s obituary, it said, “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 Gainey to hug every one of his troops when leaving and returning from overseas and that started her final career as the ‘Hug Lady.’”
The obituary went on to say, “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.”
Many of the signatures on the petition were from soldiers who had the opportunity to receive one of Laird’s hugs and they agreed that she had quite an impact on them.
Merrill Davidson said when he returned from Afghanistan, he got a hug from Laird that made him “cry with joy.”
Davidson said, “I lost a buddy to a roadside bomb less than a month before. I didn’t have any family meeting me that day and i [sic.] 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 [sic.] realized there was one person there that was.”
During her funeral service in 2015, Laird’s daughter said, “For 12 plus years, she would come to this terminal day or night, morning or afternoon, to see the Soldiers coming or going from their deployment – whether it was two or 200. That always amazed me.”
Chaplain (Col.) Brian Chepey, who spoke at Laird’s funeral said, “Remembering and celebrating the life of one who has given a Soldier – even this Soldier – a hug, both deploying and redeploying, from this very place.”
Lt. Gen. Pat White, III Corps and Fort Hood commander said, “To put that into perspective, the active component of your Army is not yet even at 470,000, she hugged the entire Army over the 12 years she was doing this.”
Rick Dewees, Laird’s son told The Fort Hood Sentinel that when his mom was in the hospital, soldiers lined up outside his mom’s hospital room to give her one final hug.
Dewees said, “What they showed when she was in the hospital, she couldn’t go to them, so they came to her. It was quite phenomenal.”
Sgt. Christopher Peckham, 3rd Infantry Division, who received a hug from Laird, made a 1,200-mile journey to be at the dedication ceremony.
He said, “The Hug Lady meant to me and a lot of Soldiers, a sense of comfort and coming home – that love and affection a lot of Soldiers, especially single Soldiers, didn’t have when they left and came home.”
Laird’s daughter spoke at the ceremony and before the presentation of the plaque, she said her mom “loved people and she especially loved the men and women who have served their country. She said, ‘I couldn’t do any less than be here for them.’”
She added, “Although we believe it was quite a sacrifice, I believe if she was here, she would say it was the men and women who have served that has made the sacrifice. She said it’s not her, it’s the Soldiers and every person that serves in the armed forces – they are the ones who are important.”