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Washington — President Barack Obama hailed the oldest known U.S. veteran — 110-year-old Detroiter Emma Didlake — after she died Sunday, a month after meeting the commander in chief at the White House.

“Emma Didlake served her country with distinction and honor, a true trailblazer for generations of Americans who have sacrificed so much for their country,” Obama said in a statement.

“I was humbled and grateful to welcome Emma to the White House last month, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to Emma’s family, friends, and everyone she inspired over her long and quintessentially American life.”

Didlake, born in Boligee, Alabama, in 1905, served the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps during World War II as a private and driver.

In 1944, she and her family moved from Lynch, Kentucky, to Detroit, where she joined the NAACP chapter and later marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963.

Didlake’s granddaughter, Marilyn Horne of Farmington Hills, said Didlake passed away Sunday morning at Heartland, a rehabilitation center in West Bloomfield.

“After we came back from our trip, she was still OK but, at her age, you have good days, bad days,” Horne said. “She just went to sleep. It was very peaceful.”

Didlake had been sick on and off, but had been doing relatively well since returning from her trip to Washington on July 17.

“She’s done all she’d done in the military, had a great political life, was involved in all the social activities and everything. And then she met the president. I think she was like, OK, so what else can I do?” Horne said.

“I think she had just finished her course, and the Lord decided to call her on home.”

A viewing is set for 6-8 p.m. Thursday and noon-8 p.m. Friday at Swanson Funeral Home, 806 E Grand Blvd. in Detroit.

A homecoming service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Second Baptist Church, 441 Monroe Ave., in the Greektown area of Detroit, where Didlake was a longtime member.

Didlake was awarded the Women’s Army Corps Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal, according to the White House.

Didlake had flown to Washington last month via Delta Private Jets and Talons Out Honor Flight, the southwest Michigan chapter of a nonprofit organization that provides free day trips for veterans to visit their memorial in Washington.

Talons Out’s President Bobbie Bradley, who accompanied Didlake to Washington, D.C, connected with her last year after a newspaper in Texas told her story.

“We are honored to have spent the day with Big Mama. Our hearts are heavy to have to say goodbye,” Bradley said. “She was just the sweetest thing and so funny. She had such a quick wit.”

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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