Detroit woman deemed oldest veteran to meet Obama
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 Friday. 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 especially 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 WAAC in 1943, said her granddaughter, Marilyn Horne. She served stateside for about seven months during the war, 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.
Moyle said his group was contacted by the Honor Flight affiliate in Austin, Texas, after the death of 108-year-old veteran Lucy Coffey, who took an honor flight and met Obama last year. Friends first alerted members of the Texas group of Didlake’s age and her interest in being involved.
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.
Talons Out officials contacted Didlake and her family, along with U.S. Rep. Fred Upton to make the necessary White House connections. A retired nurse has volunteered to accompany her as a precaution.
Horne, Didlake’s granddaughter, 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, a licensed hair dresser born in Boligee, Alabama, in 1905, is losing her vision and hearing, but “her mind is excellent.”
So is her sense of humor.
Horne said that when Talons Out officials presented her grandmother with a short-sleeved shirt bearing the group’s logo to wear on the trip, Didlake took a look and said: “’I don’t have Michelle Obama arms — I’m going to need a jacket.’”