It is not often, in our troubled times, that a story comes to our attention that has the ability to bring tears to our eyes and warm our hearts. Meet Elizabeth Laird, “The Hug Lady,” who has been greeting the soldiers, as they arrive and depart from Fort Hood, Texas, since 2003.
The tiny, 4′ 10″, 80-year-old, unsung American hero has been there at the US Military’s massive Texas base to hug every single soldier when they deploy and when they finally return home, worn and weary, from serving the nation they love.
Elizabeth estimates that she has hugged over 500,000 American soldiers during the last nine years since she was first embraced by a young soldier as a Salvation Army volunteer. When that soldier hugged her, Elizabeth noticed the other troops from his unit standing on the tarmac. She felt she couldn’t ignore the other soldiers, so she hugged each of them, and a tradition was born.
Today, the grandmother of 12 and great grandmother of seven is on-hand as Fort Hood’s official “Hug Lady” to provide much needed comfort to American soldiers. She is always aware that some of the troops she hugs as they depart may not be there to receive a welcome home embrace where their unit returns.
In addition to her role as the official greeter at Fort hood, the lady from Copperas Cove, Texas leads an active life. A veteran of the United States Air Force who was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Elizabeth has owned a tax preparation business in her home town for several decades. She is a vegan; keeps two dogs, 27 cats, and six birds; and is proud of the fact she hasn’t cut her waist length hair in 40 years.
Life hasn’t been easy for Mrs. Laird in recent years. In 2008, her husband of 36 years, Ray Laird, died from a blood clot. Nine days later her eldest daughter, Linda, died from breast cancer. The graceful grandmother was almost overcome with grief. She said:
“In a way it was better because you can only hurt so much. I think it was God’s plan. The pain for both of them was so intense. It was good that it went together rather than getting over one and then being hit with a second one.”
Perhaps the hugs have helped to heal Elizabeth Laird as much as they help every one of the thousands of troops she has held in her loving embrace. It is said that hugs can heal, and, certainly, this wonderful lady has helped to heal the fear, and loneliness, of our soldiers as they depart to face the horrors of war. She has brought our soldiers their first touch of a normal life, with each hug she gives, as they return to America, and home.
Elizabeth defines her philosophy with these simple, direct words:
“If I can bring a smile to their face, if I can lift their spirits a bit, if I can let them know we care,” she says, “it’s my way of saying ‘thank you for what you do.”
There are over half a million brave soldier, who have experienced the joy of a sincere, heart felt hug and a few kind words from this gentle lady. America salutes Elizabeth Laird, “The Hug Lady” of Fort Hood.