Gerald Coffee

Gerald Coffee

Former Vietnam P.O.W.
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Program Descriptions

Beyond Survival: Reaffirming the Invincibility of the Human Spirit
In this presentation, Captain Coffee gives a moving account of his incredible experience from capture to ultimate release. His faith—in himself, others, his country, and his God—was the key to turning an unbelievably difficult and potential devastating experience into an opportunity for personal growth.


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Gerald (Jerry) Coffee joined the Navy in 1957 after graduating from UCLA. In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis as an F-8 Crusader pilot, Jerry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying low level reconnaissance missions over Cuba, taking the photos ultimately used by the United States UN ambassador to prove the existence of Soviet missiles there. In February of 1966, while flying combat missions over North Vietnam, his RA5-C reconnaissance jet was downed by enemy fire. He parachuted safely but was captured immediately. For the next seven years he was held as a POW in the Communist prisons of North Vietnam. After his repatriation in February 1973, Jerry returned to operation duties. He retired from active duty in the Navy after twenty-eight years of service. His military decorations include the Silver Star, two awards of the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, two Bronze Stars, the Air Medal, two Purple Hearts, and the Vietnam Service Medal with thirteen stars.

For the past twenty years, Captain Gerald Coffee, has been considered one of the nation’s top speakers, addressing thousands of people a year across a broad spectrum of corporate America and to international groups as well. In his message of going “Beyond Survival,” Jerry draws not only from insights derived from the prison experience, but also from the perspective of his unique experiences since then: earning a masters degree in political science from Cal-Berkeley, studying at the prestigious National Defense University in Washington, D.C., Navy command and staff assignments, and his continuing interaction with hundreds of America’s corporations and associations as a professional speaker.

In a poll of corporate meeting planners, Captain Coffee was selected as one of America’s Top Ten Speakers. And, the prestigious Million Dollar Round Table selected him as one of its top twelve most popular, highest-rated, main platform speakers for the past twenty years. He holds the National Speaker’s Association’s highest rating of CSP and membership in the Speaker’s Hall of Fame (CPAE). His numerous civilian awards include the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge. Jerry is a highly respected commentator on current political, economic, and social issues, seeing most in terms of opportunities yet to be seized by heroic leadership. He has appeared on Larry King Live, Talk Back Live, NBC News, and numerous radio and TV talk shows. His book, Beyond Survival, condensed by Readers Digest, is on audiocassette by Nightingale-Conant, and was made into an award-winning play called The Prisoner.

Captain Gerald Coffee is an inspiring example of the power of the human spirit to survive and triumph over the most adverse circumstances. His inspiring story conveys a positive message that we each have the potential to survive any ordeal, overcome any obstacle, and achieve any goal.

Selected as one of America’s Top-Ten Speakers, Captain Jerry Coffee uses Tap Code to personalize his message to your group. After hearing him, your people will look at their challenges and adversities in a totally different way.

Tapping the Power of the Human Spirit...

When Captain Coffee talks about faith in one another, audiences are spellbound as he taps out client-specific messages to illustrate the importance of communication, both in prison as well as in corporate and personal lives. POWs in North Vietnam were not allowed to communicate with each other, so they used the centuries old "prisoners' code" tap code, using an alphabet matrix to tap out covert messages to each other.


  • Captain Coffee TAPS into...
    “Prisoners weren’t allowed to communicate, but we still found ways to do it. We created a new language. Tap Code. It consisted of five rows of five letters each. By tapping on our cell walls, we passed information, poetry, even learned new languages.”


  • Power of LEADERSHIP
    “We kept faith in the leadership of our senior officers, who taught us that commitment, courage and character really count. In solitary I learned that leadership starts with self knowledge and understanding, accountability, and integrity.”


    “I suddenly found myself thrust into a totally foreign, hostile environment with no source of strength except that which I found within me. Ultimately, that was enough.”


  • Power of TEAMWORK
    “Our motto in prison was simple: Unity Over Self. Our very survival depended on it. It was based upon faith in and loyalty to one another. Unity over self...not a bad corporate motto."


  • Power of HUMOR
    “My first shower was in a dank, converted cell with water dripping down from a rusty pipe. Totally dejected, I looked up to let the water splash on my face and saw scratched on the wall, the words: Smile you’re on Candid Camera.”


    “I walked several miles a day - three steps and a turn at a time. I vowed to find the purpose in my adversity and pain and come home better, tougher, and stronger in every way. Our mission in prison was to not just survive, but go beyond survival and return with honor.”
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