WEST BLOOMFIELD, Mich. — A Michigan woman who was believed to be the nation’s oldest veteran at 110 has died, about a month after meeting President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
Emma Didlake died Sunday in West Bloomfield, northwest of Detroit, according to the Oakland County medical examiner’s office.
Didlake was a 38-year-old wife and mother of five when she signed up in 1943 for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She served about seven months stateside during the war, as a private and driver.
She spent time with the president in July during a trip to Washington that was arranged by Talons Out Honor Flight, a southwest Michigan chapter of a national nonprofit that provides free, one-day trips for veterans to visit monuments and memorials in the nation’s capital.
“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 Monday afternoon 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 was born in Alabama and moved with her family to Detroit in 1944. She was known to her family as “Big Mama” and recently moved to an assisted living family in suburban Detroit.
She was deemed the oldest U.S. veteran based on information gleaned by Honor Flight representatives through national outreach campaigns.
Granddaughter Marilyn Horne told The Associated Press last month that when Talons Out officials presented her grandmother with a short-sleeved shirt bearing the group’s logo to wear on the trip to Washington, Didlake took a look and said: “ ‘I don’t have Michelle Obama arms — I’m going to need a jacket.’”
During her visit to the White House, Didlake wore a patriotic-themed neck scarf and sat in her wheelchair in the same spot in the Oval Office where foreign leaders sit when they meet with Obama.