Captain Gerald Coffee
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A native of California, Captain Gerald Coffee (U.S. Navy [Ret.]) joined the Navy in 1957 after his graduation from U.C.L.A. He received his Navy wings in 1959 and served his country as a naval officer for 28 years. In early 1966, while flying combat missions over North Vietnam, Captain Coffee's aircraft was downed by enemy fire. He parachuted safely, but was captured immediately. For the next seven years (until 1973), he served as a Prisoner of War in the Communist prisons of North Vietnam.
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, the Combat Action Ribbon, two awards of the Navy Unit Commendation Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal with 13 stars 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.
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.
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.
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.
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