An incredible U.S. woman known for greeting soldiers returning from active duty overseas with a hug, has been visited in hospital by hundreds of members of the military who are keen to return the favour.
As reported by Today, Elizabeth Laird from Texas enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and later started volunteering for the Salvation Army. When the Iraq War broke out in 2003, she asked the chief of the foundation if she could go out to Fort Hood.
Since that day 12 years ago, she has greeted every soldier who has passed through Fort Hood. First, she shook their hands but then one day one soldier decided he wanted a hug. Since then, Elizabeth estimates she has given out more than 500,000 hugs to both send off soldiers and welcome them home.
The 83-year-old remains keen to keep her beautiful tradition going but she has found it more and more difficult in recent times because of her battle with breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2005.
Earlier this month, Elizabeth was admitted to a hospital in Killeen, Texas after her cancer put her in a weakened state.
However, once the word got out that she was lying in a hospital bed, soldiers started lining up and flooding her room so they could give her a hug. One soldier even travelled all the way from New York so he could see her.
Speaking to Today, Elizabeth said:
When they enter the room, they give me a hug and then we talk about anything from their family to what it was like overseas or if they got a civilian job upon returning. Sometimes the line is so long that we have to turn people away. They tell me how much my hug meant to them and how they’ll never forget it. A lot of [them were] leaving home for the first time and some of their families couldn’t be there to see them off.
And the soldiers aren’t the only ones surprising her – on Wednesday, Elizabeth received a letter from former U.S. President George W Bush to thank her for her efforts and her compassion.
Elizabeth’s son Richard Dewess started a GoFundMe page to raise money for her hospital bills, and they’ve already raised $85,000 (£56,000) in just two weeks.
As Elizabeth puts it: “My hugs tell the soldiers that I appreciate what they’re doing for us”. But, clearly the appreciation and the love goes both ways.
What a lovely gesture from these guys and gals. Let’s hope Elizabeth gets better soon!