Captain Gerald Coffee

coffeegerald.pngOne of the longest held P.O.W.s in the Communist Prisons of Vietnam, Captain Gerald Coffee is now one of the most popular keynote speakers in America.

Born in Modesto, California, Gerald (Jerry) Coffee joined the Navy in 1957 after graduating from UCLA with a degree in Commercial Art. 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. He was featured for this daring and profound feat in the January, 16, 2007 series “The Man, The Moment, and The Machine.”

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 28 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 13 stars.

For the past 26 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 20 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 and the Honolulu Council of the Navy League Patriot of the Year for 2005.

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 (twice), Talk Back Live, NBC news, and numerous radio and TV talk shows. His book, Beyond Survival, condensed by Readers Digest, is on audio-cassette by Nightingale-Conant, and was made into an award-winning play called “The Prisoner.”

Captain Coffee and his wife, Susan, a journalist, reside in Aiea, Hawaii. Their lanai overlooks Pearl Harbor and is directly across from Camp Smith where a giant American flag dedicated to America’s POWs and MIAs waves 24/7

In his talk, “Beyond Survival,” 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 potentially devastating experience into an opportunity for personal growth.

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

Captain Jerry Coffee uses “Tap Code” to personalize his message to your group. After hearing him, those in the audience will look at their challenges and adversities in a totally different way.

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 …

…the power of COMMUNICATION

“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.”

…the 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.”

…the power of MASTERING CHANGE

“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.”

…the 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.”

…the 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.”


Captain Coffee has addressed virtually every kind of audience representing every age group and walk of life.  Whether a national or multi-national corporation, a trade or professional association, a government agency or military installation, a local club or student assembly, his message has universal appeal.


Flexible to meet the needs of the program, with one hour the optimum length.  Extended sessions allow time for questions and answers.

Specific Benefits:

  • Individual and organizational self-esteem and awareness
  • Courageous yet flexible leadership under stress
  • Organization loyalty through pride and professionalism
  • Reaffirmation of our intuitive sense of ethics and values
  • Reordering of priorities from a fresh perspective
  • The essence of spiritual and patriotic values in the pursuit of success and happiness

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