At Fort Hood, Texas, troops are remembering a very special woman named Elizabeth Laird, and the power of her hugs.
She was the beloved "hug lady" and for the last dozen years, Laird was there for them, with open arms. More than half a million of them actually-- soldiers from Fort Hood anxiously heading off to war. And some -- with the deepest relief imaginable -- coming home.
"She meant a lot to us. And she had a wonderful, wonderful impact on everybody that she met," one soldier recalled.
Last month, when word got out that Laird was losing her long battle with breast cancer, the troops made it their mission to return the hugs -- and to thank the 83-year-old Air Force veteran for her service.
Former President George W. Bush sent her a letter.
"We are a fortunate nation to have men and women sacrifice for our freedom. Thank you for all you have done at Fort Hood," it read.
Last Tuesday, Laird was honored with a big award for her devotion to the troops. Two days later, on Christmas Eve, she passed away.
"She was a smiling face, you know, in a time where people could have possibly been afraid," one soldier said.
Elizabeth Laird, who made the world better with her hugs -- would have been 84 next month.