ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Sometimes, a simple gesture can mean the world - for example, a hug. For the past 12 years, a woman known as the hug lady embraced nearly every soldier deploying from Fort Hood in Texas. She hugged them again when they returned from overseas. Her name was Elizabeth Laird, and she died on Christmas Eve at the age of 83. NPR's Ina Jaffe has this remembrance.
INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Hugs may be among the few things for which the military does not keep statistics. But it's estimated that Elizabeth Laird has given about half a million hugs to Fort Hood soldiers. As she told NBC News last year, in the beginning, she just shook each soldier's hand.
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ELIZABETH LAIRD: And then one day, a soldier hugged me. Well, there was another soldier there once this one hugged me - that one needed a hug too, so I turned around and gave him a hug. Well, then another one needed a hug. And so it went.
JAFFE: Col. Christopher Garver has had his share of hugs. He's been based at Fort Hood for three years and deployed from there three times. Soldiers can come or go at any hour, he says. That never mattered to Laird.
CHRISTOPHER GARVER: I mean, 1 o'clock in the morning, she was there, and she would say a prayer for the soldiers. She'd hug each one as they walked out the door. And then when you came home at 9 a.m. on a Sunday or whenever time you arrived, she was there waiting for you when your plane flew in.
JAFFE: Elizabeth Laird battled metastatic breast cancer for 10 years. Recently, when her son started an online campaign to raise $10,000 for her care, the Fort Hood community chipped in 95,000. And they left comments calling her a blessing and thanking her for her service. There's now an online petition to have the deployment center at Fort Hood named for Elizabeth Laird - the Hug Lady. Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.