Elizabeth Laird has given out a lot of hugs to soldiers -- she figures about half a million -- as they depart for duty and come home. But now that she's in the hospital battling breast cancer, it's her turn to receive the love.
"I just had to come and see you," retired Army Staff Sgt. Edmond Clark told her during a recent hospital visit. "I love you so much."
Clark isn't the only soldier who has been touched by Laird, who has become known around Fort Hood as the "hug lady" because of her determination to hug every single service member leaving or coming back since the Iraq War started in 2003. She's become a part of the ritual of leaving and coming home, and soldiers look forward to her warm greetings, Staff Sgt. Kenneth Fiaoni explained to ABC affiliate WFAA.
"Every time we came back, we were like, 'Hey we're going to see the hug lady today,'" Fiaoni said.
Laird, herself an Air Force veteran, said that she hopes her hugs serve as a source of comfort for the troops.
"I want them to know that God will take care of them, but they have to ask him," she said.
The 83-year-old was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, but recently it metastasized to her bones and lungs, sending her to the hospital and causing her to miss the Veterans Day parade she planned to attend last week. She's chosen to forgo radiation treatments and chemotherapy in favor of prayer.
Now that Laird is the one who could use some hugs, soldiers are helping her any way they can, including hospital visits and warm messages on the GoFundMe page her family set up.
And those who make it on a visit, of course, are sure to give her a hug.