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Oldest living veteran meets Obama

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 22, 2015


Two fire trucks honored Emma Didlake, the nation’s oldest veteran, with a water cannon salute as she departed from Oakland County International Airport to meet the president the morning of July 17.

The 110-year-old West Bloomfield resident was escorted by members of Talons Out Honor Flight and her granddaughter, Marilyn Horne, of Farmington Hills, on her trip to Washington, D.C., where, in addition to meeting President Barack Obama she was scheduled to visit the National World War II Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

Talons Out Honor Flight recognizes veterans for their sacrifices by flying veterans to D.C. to visit their respective memorial at no cost.
Prior to her departure, Didlake, also known as “Big Mama,” spoke with members of the media about her trip, and she said she hadn’t made up her mind on what she was going to ask Obama, but she would figure it out on the plane ride.

Didlake joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943 when she was 38 years old, and she said that because there was not a lot going on at the time, she was going to “try to see what it was like,” referring to joining the military. One of 15 kids, Didlake was the only one in her family to enter the military, Horne said.

“There was a lot of things that kept me busy,” Didlake said about being in the military.

And when she wasn’t busy, she read the Bible, Horne added.

When asked what her secret is to being healthy, Didlake said, “Oh, I don’t have a secret. … The Lord guides me.”

Horne said Didlake eats a lot of fruits and vegetables, but not a lot of meat. She also mixes nine raisins with gin and enjoys swiss cheese with apples.

“Vision might not be too good and hearing is definitely not that good,” but Didlake still has her “wits and mind,” Horne said. Horne asked Didlake how many states Obama had to win in the 2008 presidential election, to which Didlake responded, “Twenty-seven.”

“She said, ‘If he hadn’t got the 27, we wouldn’t be here today talking about this,’” Horne said Didlake told her and representatives of Talons Out Honor Flight previously.

Before departing, Horne and Didlake did not know they would be visiting the president in the Oval Office. When they learned about the Oval Office, Didlake was shocked and said, “Oh, thank you. It’s quite an honor.”

While in the Oval Office, Obama introduced Didlake and said she served “with distinction and honor.”

“We are so grateful that she is here with us today. And it's a great reminder of not only the sacrifices that the Greatest Generation made on our behalf, but also the kind of trailblazing that our women veterans made, African-American veterans who helped to integrate our Armed Services. We are very, very proud of them. That's why we got to make sure we do right by them,” Obama said.

The public welcomed Didlake home from her trip Friday evening.

“Oakland County is proud to salute Mrs. Didlake and her service to our country as she returns from her Honor Flight,” Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson said in a released statement. “She is a trailblazer who represents both the Greatest Generation and the civil rights movement. She is living history.”