Patriotism Runs in the Family

Mirror Image: A Navy Mother and Daughter

Nearly 40 years ago, Bettye Dianne (Jones) Radcliffe gave up a career in the Navy for her daughter and 22 years later she gave her daughter back to the Navy.

When the newly wed hospital corpsman was forced to leave the Navy because she was pregnant, she never dreamed that the path of her first born would one day resemble her own so closely. In fact, the baby girl she had six months after her discharge not only chose to serve in the military, but she chose the same branch of service, the same occupational specialty and they were the same age at enlistment. Some would say, that except for the pregnancy discharge, daughter Tia’s service was a mirror image of her mother’s, and they’d be right.

Dianne–as her friends call her–quit college to join the Navy in 1967 and was eager to do her patriotic duty, travel outside her native Texas and earn some money to one day return to college. She left her close-knit family in Ft. Worth and attended basic training in Brainbridge, MD, before going off to Great Lakes Training Center, IL, to train as a hospital corpsman. She soon found herself at the Navy’s Physical Therapy (PT) Technician School at Bethesda Naval Hospital, MD. One of only three women in the class of 18, Dianne had no idea just how much her life was about to change.

HM3 Dianne Jones (third row from front, 1st woman at left) attended US Navy Physical Therapy Technician School at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, MD, in February 1969. She met fellow classmate, HM3 Jim Radcliffe (2nd row, 3rd from left) at PTT School and the two married later that year.Photo courtesy of Dianne Radcliffe.

While at Bethesda, Dianne completed PT school and met her future husband, fellow PT student HM3 Jim Radcliffe. Soon after their August 1969 wedding, Dianne and Jim were overjoyed to learn that they were expecting their first child. But Dianne’s joy came with a price–her Navy career.

“I was discharged in 1969,” Dianne recalls. “Even though I was married, I was not allowed to remain in the service because I was pregnant. I loved being in the Navy and I would have stayed if the rules had been different. Within a year after my discharge, the Navy changed the policy, but it was too late for me.”

Dianne says that, in her day, things were different for women in the military–including the policies on marriage and children. “I was discharged at the same time as another young girl who was pregnant but not married,” according to Dianne. “They treated us the same, except I got an honorable discharge and hers was general.”

Before reporting to her new duty station in Pensacola, FL, Dianne visited her parents at their Ft. Worth, TX, home while on leave after completing Navy Hospital Corpsman School, Great Lakes Training Center, IL, in 1967. Photo courtesy of Dianne Radcliffe.

Despite her enlistment being cut short, Dianne got a lot out of her brief time in the service. “I wasn’t even in long enough to earn a Good Conduct Medal, but I became a PT tech, traveled throughout the country and earned the GI Bill,” she says. “That’s not too bad for only serving two and a half years.”

When she traded her Navy uniform for diapers and baby bottles, Dianne and Jim, who was still serving as a PT technician at Bremerton,WA, were thrilled when little Tia joined their “Navy family.” Tia and her younger brother Tege grew up knowing that both of their parents served their country. Since Tia was a little girl, mom Dianne talked about having served and meeting Tia’s dad, as well as their long, patriotic family line that dated back to the Civil War.

Much like her mother had done years before, Tia enrolled in college after graduating from high school in Texas, where the family settled after Jim’s discharge. After three years, she was still undecided about what to do with her life so she decided to join the military–she was 22 years old and she chose the Navy.

“I was really surprised when my daughter decided to join [the Navy],” Dianne recalls. “Serving in the military is really special. It makes you feel good that you’ve done something for your country. I think it’s something Jim and I passed on to her.”

By the time Tia joined in 1992, basic training was no longer held in Brainbridge, MD. Instead, she trained in Orlando, FL, graduating as an E-3 because of her college background. Then she went off to San Diego, CA, for her chosen occupational training–she became a corpsman.

(From left) CAPT J. A. Burkhart frocks HM3 Tia (Radcliffe) Langston, US Naval Hospital Sigonella, Italy, June 16, 1995. Photo courtesy of Tia (Radcliffe) Langston.

Tia says that becoming a corpsman was an easy decision because she wanted to help people. During her six years of active duty, she achieved the rank of HM3 and served at naval hospitals in Parris Island, SC; Sigonella, Italy; and Portsmouth, NH. Her dream of a 20-year Navy career was cut short by an injury in 1998. While in Portsmouth, Tia, an avid softball player and pitcher for the clinic team, was injured during a game. Her wrist was so severely damaged that she could no longer pass the Navy physical training test and she was medically discharged in 1998.

This mother and daughter have another thing in common—the GI Bill. Dianne used her GI Bill education benefits to finish college while she raised her family. She earned a bachelor’s degree in physical and special education and later a master of arts from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, TX. She also did post-graduate work in deaf education and was certified as an educational diagnostician through Texas Woman’s University. After 19 years in the classroom and eight years as an educational diagnostician, Dianne retired in 2003. Daughter Tia also balanced family life while pursuing her education, using the GI Bill and her vocational rehabilitation benefits from the VA to finish her bachelor’s degree in health sciences at Old Dominion College, VA, in 2002. She now works as a records review coordinator in the Quality Assurance Department at LifeNet, an organ recovery and tissue bank in Virginia Beach, VA, near where she and her husband, Navy MMCS Mark Langston, and her step-children, Tim and Kristin, make their home in Portsmouth.

(From left) HM3 Tia Langston and former HM3 Dianne Radcliffe, both Charter Members, attended the Dedication Ceremony at the Women’s Memorial, Oct. 18, 1997. Photo courtesy of Dianne Radcliffe.

Their Navy service was a virtual mirror of one another, but both mother and daughter agree that it was merely a coincidence—a coincidence that created an even tighter bond between them. “I feel like we’ve grown a lot closer because its something unique we share,” Tia says. This Navy mother and daughter shared another special experience in 1997 when, as charter members, they attended the dedication of the Women’s Memorial—and they plan to attend the 10th Anniversary in October 2007.

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