Capt. Gerald Coffee

Vietnam POW Survivor, Motivation, Inspiration


Travels From: Aiea, Hawaii
Fee Range:  $20,000 – $40,000



Born in Modesto, California, Gerald “Jerry” Coffee joined the Navy in 1957 after graduating from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Cuban Missile Crisis

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 U.N. ambassador to prove the existence of Soviet missiles there. He was featured in the 2007 History Channel  series “The Man, The Moment, and the Machine” recounting his photo recon exploits during that dangerous time in U.S. history.  His daring mission is also documented in Michael Dobb’s book (p. 119), One Minute to Midnight Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War… (2008 Alfred A. Knofe Publishing).

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 operational 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 20 years, Captain Gerald Coffee, has been considered one of the nation’s top speakers, addressing thousands each year  across a broad spectrum of corporate America and to international groups as well.

Captain Coffee is the most powerful inspirational speaker I’ve every heard. He will demonstrate how you can live life to its fullest and how to make all of life’s experiences positive ones. Hearing him is an unforgettable, moving experience. Tom Johnson, former President, CNN.

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, 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. After hearing him, those in the audience will look at their challenges and adversities in a totally different way.

Captain Coffee uses “tap code” to personalize his message. Prisoners were forbidden from communicating with each other, so they employed the centuries old prisoners tap code based on this alphabet matrix to tap out covert messages to each other on the walls of their cells. Captain Coffee demonstrates tap code to illustrate the importance of communication, both in prison as well as in corporate and personal lives.



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.

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.

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.

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.

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 the words scratched on the wall by another POW before me: Smile you’re on Candid Camera.

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY  I walked several miles a day in my tiny cell – three steps and a turn. 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.


AUDIENCE:  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.

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


  • 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

Client Feedback

“Your story made me forget the little nuisances that I live with everyday, and you remind me to be grateful for my life today, as an American!  Our human spirit may be “bent” during the difficult times, but it can never be broken because we must not choose to allow it.  Your story was so compelling that it gave me goose bumps!
Andrew Brenneman
Sr. Government Account Executive, Sprint

“The fact that you were willing to participate in a variety of activities throughout our conference enabled out attendees to interface with you individually… remembered long after the memories of the event fade away.”
Michael A. Kinsman
Director, Marketing & Sales, Cal-Air, Inc.

“Your presentation captured the hearts of all 2,000 EAPA members.  You certainly made us look good.  Your message is not only for the moment, but for the long haul.”
Sylvia A. Straub, Ph.D., CAE, COO,
Employee Assistance Professional Assn., Inc

“I spend time during the presentation looking at the audience… the audience was completely mesmerized… not a yawn, not a quick look at the watch, not a drifting glance… You could hear a pin drop (even on carpet!)”
Brenda C. Park
Director, Dealership Div., Teleco, Inc.

“Your presentation hit home with our team in an unpredictable way.  Now I know personally why you have been honored as one of America’s best.”
William J. Hannigan
President, Business Communication Services,Southwestern Bell

“Clearly, your faith is the only credible explanation for surviving an unimaginable seven years in a North Vietnam prison.  I can’t tell you how pleased I was to hear from many employees, particularly the “old timers,” that this was the best annual meeting they can recall.”
Gerard Smith, President & CEO
Saxon Publishers

“Your message was a powerful and moving experience.”
Fern Bennett, Corporate Travel Director
Provident Mutual Insurance and Financial Services

“You were such a pleasure to work with from the moment I contacted you last fall.  Your gracious manners and attention to our needs made my job coordinating this event a little easier.  The time and care you took with individuals after your speech helped to make it a great day.”
Julie Feuling, Director of Specialty Groups
Independent Community Bankers of America

“The feedback we received on your address/presentation at our GMI Annual Technical Conference was overwhelmingly positive.  I will wholeheartedly endorse the “Coffee” experience to my colleagues on the Executive Team.”
Rory A. M. Delaney, Senior Vice President
Strategic Technology Development
General Mills

“Your presentation was, in my opinion, just perfect.  I appreciate the way you were sensitive to the needs of our international audience.”
Ed W. Evins, Jr., CFP
Asst. VP, Merrill Lynch, Pres., Kiwanis Club

“I think during this time in America and during these tough economic times as well, your inspirational story really struck a wonderful chord with them.  Your mix of humor and seriousness to get across your message across made for a great close to our Opening General Session and I appreciate everything that you did both onsite and before the meeting to tailor your speech to our group.”
Eleanor G Baird, CMP
Director of Meetings & Exhibits

“Thank you for remaining with us for the evening’s festivities, and allowing so many other people to speak with you one on one about their feelings and reactions to your speech.  We all appreciate your willingness to share so completely of yourself.”
Tad R. Yoder, CVLE
President, NVLA
Marple Fleet Leasing

I have been with the Association for 20 years, and I have never seen a speaker have the full undivided attention of the audience for their entire presentation.  You have been our most dynamic speaker to date.”
Kelly Hipp, Dir., Professional Relations
American Optometric Assn.

“Crucial to our concerns for a keynote speaker was Capt. Coffee’s adeptness at merging the ideology of his message with the specific perspective and terminology of our membership.”
Beverly Younger Urban, LCSW, CEAP
Regional EAP Mgr.-Bank of America

“Captain Coffee’s was the last speaker of the program. He received a standing ovation and I believe even got a few folks choked up.  It was extremely inspirational.”
Jennifer Gabriele, AVP
Salomon Smith Barney

“The values and strength you demonstrate is a motivational factor for all and will be reflected upon for years to come.”
Karen T. Minoux, Group Director, Marketing
Household – automotive finance

“Thanks you very much for addressing the Naval Academy Class of 2006 on the topic of Honor.  The thunderous applause and standing ovations were evidence that you connected with the midshipmen.”
R.J. Naughton, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy
Department of the Navy

“While his story may be considered tragic, he was upbeat and humorous.  His message touched us personally.”
Louis G. Altieri
District Mgr., New Engagements, AT&T

“Your heart – touching story of faith and personal triumph over adversity and disparity has touched all of us deeply.  I personally, was in awe of your story, and have a different outlook on my day-to-day activities.”
Eric D. Higgins, Maytag Management Club
Program Committee Chairman Maytag

“This conference was filled with exceptional events, but I must say that our time with you was the highlight of the conference.  You are truly a gifted speaker and many points that you made will stay with us for life!”
Stanhope A. Kelly, President
Wachovia Corporation

“A grand slam.  This is the third time you have addressed an NAED audience and the results have been the same… outstanding!
Arnold Farber, President
Nat’l Assn. of Electrical Distributors, Inc.

“I had numerous members approach me during the remainder of our meeting with positive comments regarding the content of your speech, the appropriateness in light of September 11th, and the emotional delivery of your message.  Everyone went away with ideas and ways to improve and appreciate their lives.  This was your second “round” with WDMA.  I am sure it won’t be your last.”
Rick Liddell, Vice President
Architectural Door Division
VT Industrie