Emma Didlake likes to say she always was one for getting into something, but she had no idea of what a big deal it was when she joined the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1943.
A lot of Americans didn't like the idea of women stepping into roles that had been reserved for men, especially if those jobs took them to war. But then there was the fact that she was black in a segregated society.
"I didn't know I was breaking barriers," said Didlake, who turned 110 on March 13, receiving more than 250 birthday cards. "But I enjoyed doing what I was doing because I had committed myself to do just this."
Now she's breaking one last barrier. Didlake, the nation's oldest known veteran, is headed to Washington, D.C., for a tour of the monuments and, perhaps, a visit with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Nothing has been scheduled by the White House or Talons Out Honor Flight, which has taken 179 veterans to Washington, but Bobbie Bradley, president and co-founder of the group based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, said a trip is likely soon.
"Am I going?" Didlake asked, when told of a flight to Washington.
"You should see her face," said granddaughter Marilyn Horne, 62, of Farmington Hills, a Detroit suburb. "She is smiling from one ear to the other."
Biden and Obama were on hand at the White House to meet with Lucy Coffey, who everyone had believed was the nation's second-oldest veteran behind a fellow Texan, Richard Overton, and the oldest woman.
Coffey, 108, died last week in San Antonio and was given a fond farewell here with military honors. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff was on hand. Biden and his wife, Jill, sent a flower arrangement with a handwritten note. And Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, entered a tribute into the congressional record.
"It was a beautiful service," Bexar County Veterans Service Officer Queta Marquez said.
Didlake was surprised to learn she might be the nation's oldest veteran, just ahead of Phyllis Josephine Thompson, an Army nurse who the Buffalo News said turned 109 on Wednesday. Overton, a Bastrop County native, was born three days before Coffey in May 1906 and until now had been credited with being the oldest veteran in the nation.
Didlake, a native of Greene County, Alabama, and her family moved to Kentucky. She met her husband, Oscar, and they had five children. They lived in Lynch, where he worked in coal mines and she decided to join the WACs -- without asking for her husband's opinion or permission, not that it mattered.
"There wasn't no argument or anything like that, it was no trouble. I just did it," she said, adding that she joined because "I wanted to do different things."
Unlike Coffey, who traveled to the Pacific and spent a decade in Japan, Didlake stuck close to home, working as a driver, often carrying a Bible with her. Records show that she served about seven months and received an honorable discharge.
After the war, she joined the Detroit chapter of the NAACP, selling dinner tickets for the group's annual fundraising event. She was later honored by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi for her role with the Detroit chapter, where she is the longest-serving member.
These days, Didlake lives alone in an apartment. She uses a walker to get around and a magnifying glass to read. There is mail to keep track of, including statements from a checking account she still uses.
Though hard of hearing, Didlake is healthy, taking one pill a day for diabetes and eye drops for glaucoma. She tires easily but has a good memory and can hold a conversation.
Didlake credits her good health to living in moderation and not smoking, but there's also a ritual. Each evening, the lady who eight grandchildren and six great-great grandchildren call "Big Mama" soaks nine golden raisins in a pint of vodka and lets them sit overnight.
She eats them the next afternoon.