DETROIT – A 110-year-old woman believed to be the nation’s oldest veteran is preparing to visit Washington on an honorary trip that includes meeting President Barack Obama. There’s just one glitch: She wants a jacket to wear with her official trip T-shirt, because she doesn’t have “Michelle Obama arms.”
Emma Didlake, a longtime Detroit resident and veteran of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II, is scheduled to leave today. The visit is being arranged by Talons Out Honor Flight, a southwest Michigan chapter of a national nonprofit that provides free, one-day trips for veterans to visit Washington’s monuments and memorials.
Didlake is excited to see the memorial honoring her other favorite president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Known to family as “Big Mama,” Didlake was a 38-year-old wife and mother of five when she “wanted to do something different” and signed up for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943, said her granddaughter, Marilyn Horne. She served stateside for about seven months as a private and driver.
After she was discharged, she and her family moved to Detroit in 1944 – and she quickly joined the local NAACP chapter. She marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 and received a lifetime achievement award two years ago from the chapter.
Dan Moyle, co-founder of Talons Out Honor Flight, said his group is awed by her life story.
“She’s really forged a path for women and minorities,” he said.
Didlake was deemed the oldest U.S. veteran, based on information gleaned by Honor Flight representatives through national outreach campaigns. Allen Bergeron, chairman of Honor Flight Austin, said the national network hasn’t found an older veteran.
Horne said Didlake fell a few weeks ago, which put the trip in question. But the prospects now look good for her grandmother, who only recently moved to an assisted-living facility in suburban Detroit.
Horne said her grandmother, born in Boligee, Alabama, in 1905, is losing her vision and hearing, but “her mind is excellent.”