FORT HOOD, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - People embracing and shaking hands is a pretty common sight at any airport. Those given Monday at Fort Hood's Gray Airfield were done in remembrance of possibly one of the greatest huggers of all time.
An unveiling ceremony was held for Elizabeth Laird, known as the Hug Lady. A plaque was placed by the door to the Deployment Room at Larkin Terminal.
Her daughter during the ceremony said each embrace came with a prayer.
"Mother believed in the protection of Psalm 91, that’s why it was so important, every time someone was deployed she handed them a Psalm 91 card,” said Susan Dewees-Taylor.
Fort Hood Commanding General Robert White said the small woman had a big impact. White estimates she hugged more than 500,000 troops as they left for missions and later returned.
"Put that in 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,” White said
Laird started hugging soldiers in 2003; at the time she was a volunteer with the Salvation Army. She never missed a flight and gave out hugs until her death in 2015. Some of those who got one returned Monday and explained why such a simple act is so special.
"It meant a foretaste of like, my wife is not here, my children are not here ... but God's presence is here,” said Army Chaplain Col. Brian Chepey.
The hugs also had a lasting effect, according to Col. Myles Caggins.
"You feel the embrace long after the hug, because you think on those days when you're lonely or hot, or boring or scary, that somebody cares about you, at least one person,” Caggins said.
A private group is in the process of raising money for a statue. While Laird’s family supports that idea, they say the big idea behind the small plaque at the terminal is more important. The family worked with the Army on how to honor her before her death.
"She would say it’s too much,” said Laird’s son Richard Dewees.
Her daughter agreed, but added her mother would be thankful and humbled. Both believe their mother would want the hugs to continue, and say it doesn't matter where or when they are done.
"We as a whole when we see somebody we should go up there and hug them and thank them for all they do,” said Susan Dewees-Taylor.