Gerald Coffee

U.S. Navy (retired) Captain Gerald Coffee’s heroic story is legendary. In February of 1966, while flying combat missions over North Vietnam, Gerald Coffee’s RA-5C reconnaissance jet was shot down by enemy fire. He parachuted safely but was captured immediately. He was held int he Communist prisons of North Vietnam as a Prisoner of War for the next seven years. After his repatriation in February, 1973, Jerry returned to operation duties. He retired from active duty in the Navy after 28 years of service.

For two and a half decades, his spellbinding keynote talk has inspired thousands worldwide with a life-changing message of hope, faith, courage and honor. 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.


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 to communicate with each other, so they employed the centuries old prisoners’ tap code, based on an 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. 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.


  • 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.


Expertise:  Astronauts / Aviators | BUSINESS | Change | Communication | Ethics / Values | Heroes | Inspiration | Leadership | Military Leaders | Motivation – Non Sports | MOTIVATION / INSPIRATION | Overcomers / Adversity | Personal Development