Born in Modesto, California, Gerald “Jerry” Coffee joined the Navy in 1957 after graduating from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
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 ‘One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War.’
In February of 1966, while flying combat missions over North Vietnam, Jerry’s 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.
Jerry’s 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.
In his message of going beyond survival, Jerry draws not only from insights derived during his prison experience, but also from experiences since then: earning a Masters Degree in political science from University of California Berkeley, studying at the prestigious National Defense University in Washington, D.C., participating in Navy command and staff assignments, authoring books, writing a weekly political column, and his continuing interaction with hundreds of America’s corporations and associations, military units, civic groups and schools as a professional speaker.
In a poll of corporate meeting planners, Captain Coffee has been named one of America’s Top Ten Speakers. 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 Chapter of the Navy League American Patriot Award.
Captain Coffee is a highly respected commentator on current political and military issues, seeing most challenges in terms of opportunities yet to be seized by heroic leadership. Jerry has appeared on Larry King Live (twice), Talk Back Live, NBC news, and numerous radio and TV talk shows. His best-selling book ‘Beyond Survival’ was also condensed by Readers Digest and is in its fifth printing. His story was also made into the award-winning play, Prisoner. In early 2012 he was also a guest movie reviewer on the Military Channel show, ‘An Officer and a Movie.’
Jerry and his wife, Susan, a journalist, reside in Aiea, Hawaii. Between them they have 6 adult children, 9 grandchildren and 2 yellow Labs. 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.