COFFEE, GERALD LEONARD "JERRY"
Name: Gerald Leonard "Jerry" Coffee Rank/Branch: O3/US Navy Unit: Reconnaissance Squadron 13, USS KITTY HAWK Date of Birth: 02 June 1934 (Modesto CA) Home City of Record: Los Angeles CA Date of Loss: 03 February 1966 Country of Loss: North Vietnam/Over Water Loss Coordinates: 191158N 1054458E (WG788229) Status (in 1973): Released POW Category: Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RA5C Missions: 12
Other Personnel In Incident: Robert T. Hanson (missing/remains returned 1988)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 March 1990 with the assistance of one or more of the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK 2013.
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY DRV
SYNOPSIS: Lt. Gerald L. Coffee was the pilot of an RA5C Vigilante reconnaissance aircraft assigned to Reconnaissance Squadron 13 on board the USS KITTY HAWK (CVA 63). On February 3, 1966, he and navigator Lt. Robert T. Hanson were on an intelligence gathering mission against a heavily defended portion of North Vietnam. Their aircraft was hit by enemy fire and was observed to explode and hit the water near the coast of North Vietnam east of Nghe An Province. No parachutes were seen, however an emergency survival radio beeper was heard.
Both Coffee and Hanson successfully ejected and parachuted into the gulf. Several vessels were put out from the shore to capture the crewmen. Coffee was recovered by militiamen in one of the boats, and was held prisoner until his release in 1973. He stated that he had seen his navigator (Hanson) alive in the water about 12 meters away and thought that he had been picked up in one of the other boats. Lt. Coffee also reported that, shortly after his capture, a guard indicated by gestures that Lt. Hanson was dead and had been buried on the beach. Coffee was shown his identification card.
An article in the February 1, 1973 Quan Doi Nhan Dan (a daily Vietnamese paper), in describing the February 3, 1966 shootdown, stated that, "The militia ...managed to bring the two enemy pilots to shore." Hanson and Coffee's plane was the only aircraft lost within 45 miles of the Gulf of Tonkin that day.
Intelligence reports surfacing over the years during the war and following build a strong case for a well-organized second prison system, and a well orchestrated plan to keep prisoners within systems from intermingling. As it is widely believed that the Vietnamese withheld the release of many prisoners until peace agreement terms were met (specifically reconstruction aid), it is logical to assume that one prison system's inmates were released while another were held back for possible release at a later date. It is also logical to assume that the scenario might be played to its fullest, including convincing each man in a two man crew that had been separated, that the other was dead.
Whether Robert Hanson survived to be captured is not known. Experts now believe, based on thousands of reports received, that hundreds of Americans are still held prisoner in Southeast Asia. Robert Hanson could be one of them. He deserves much better than the abandonment he has received by the country he proudly served.
On November 3, 1988, the Vietnamese, who had previously denied knowledge of Lt. Hanson, "discovered" and returned his remains to U.S. control. When and how he died only the Vietnamese can say.
SOURCE: WE CAME HOME copyright 1977 Captain and Mrs. Frederic A Wyatt (USNR Ret), Barbara Powers Wyatt, Editor P.O.W. Publications, 10250 Moorpark St., Toluca Lake, CA 91602 Text is reproduced as found in the original publication (including date and spelling errors). UPDATE - 09/95 by the P.O.W. NETWORK, Skidmore, MO
GERALD L. COFFEE Commander - United States Navy Shot-Down: February 3, 1966 Released: February 12, 1973
After graduating from UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles) with a degree in Advertising Art I entered the Navy and pre-flight in the fall of 1957. I received my wings in August 1959. I flew photo Crusaders (RF-8As) out of Cecil Field, Florida, during which time I deployed twice on the USS Saratoga. In the fall of 1962 I flew reconnaissance flights over Cuba. From 1963 to 1966 I was an instructor in the Vigilante RA-5C training squadron in Sanford, Florida. In February 1966, while flying a Vigilante from the USS Kitty Hawk, I was shot down and captured in North Vietnam.
In the fall of 1957 I was married to my wife, Bea, after she graduated from San Jose State University. Bea is from Modesto, California. Our children are Kimberly, 14; Steve, 12; Dave, 11; and Jerry, 7. Of course I had never met Jerry until after my release. The by-word for my future is simply-more education; first in some general areas and then specifically in Political Science or International Relations
Many people have said that by our own words and deeds upon our return we have "turned this country around" or "restored pride in America" or "brought forth new hope for our nation's future." If this is true, then we who have seen America from a very unique vantage point and have endured with the faith of our fathers, must prepare ourselves well; prepare ourselves to fulfill whatever hopes and expectations that may now be placed upon us.
God has blessed America, but only for so long as America endures. That is the part that is up to us - all Americans.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Cdr. Coffee illustrated fellow POW Captain Howard Rutledge's book: IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES published by the Fleming H. Revell Company.
Gerald Coffee retired as a Navy Captain. His last duty station was as Public Affairs officer on the staff of the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, where his duty was to speak on a full time basis. He and his wife Susan reside in Hawaii.
Vietnam POW Coffee enters U.S. Senate race
By Derrick DePledge Advertiser Government Writer
Jerry Coffee, a decorated U.S. Navy pilot who spent seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, announced yesterday he will run in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.....
Reach Derrick DePledge at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on: Tuesday, August 8, 2006 Heart surgery forces Coffee to suspend campaign By Derrick DePledge Advertiser Government Writer
Jerry Coffee, a former Vietnam prisoner of war and motivational speaker, suspended his campaign in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate yesterday after undergoing emergency heart bypass surgery in Texas..... Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.
Vietnam POWs honored at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii - Using tap code to communicate with other prisoners in the camp, retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jerry Coffee, tapped out messages each night for seven years to the other captives at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam, including frequently tapping out the letters of their motto, "R-E-T-U-R-N W (with) H-O-N-O-R."
He demonstrated those taps during a speech at the commemorative ceremony marking the 40th anniversary of Operation Homecoming, April 4, where on that day in 1973, the last Vietnam conflict prisoner of war did indeed "return with honor" and landed on what was then, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.
"It was 40 years ago that I stepped off one of those big, beautiful
Air Force C-141 Starlifters on this very spot," Coffee said.
More than 300 members of the 15th Wing, Pacific Air Forces Headquarters and Joint Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, gathered to honor the returnees from the historic operation. Era video of the disembarkation showed the younger Coffee walking down a red carpet with hundreds gathered around. He stopped, knelt down on his hands and knees and kissed the ground he was walking on. This was the moment he returned to United States soil, a place he thought he would never see again.
"I was so glad to be home," he said.
The commemoration paid tribute to those veterans who endured, in some cases, many years of torture and sacrifice in prisoner camps during the Vietnam conflict, many of which still haven't made it home.
"America's former prisoners of war are among the nation's most venerated heroes, having served with dignity and courage through the worst of human circumstances," said Maj. Gen. Kelly K. McKeague, JPAC commander. "These men persevered. They persevered through the most unconscionable conditions; starvation, isolation, torture and the ever present threat of death. Yet even during their darkest hours, they virtuously demonstrated extraordinary personal courage and steadfast devotion to their values, their family and their country."
The United States and the democratic Republic of Vietnam signed the treaty ending the Vietnam War in Paris, Jan. 27, 1973. As part of the agreement, North Vietnam provided the U.S. with the names of POWs held by their forces. By the end of the month, North Vietnam provided 617 names, including 55 who died in captivity. Eventually, 591 POWs, including U.S. and allied servicemen and civilians, were released by North Vietnam and returned. Forty years ago, returning POWs landed at Hickam's Military Airlift Command terminal, located on the northeast end of the main ramp. There, they stepped from the planes and onto U.S. soil for the first time.
"Whether I was the first or last, it didn't make any difference," said
retired U.S. Army Maj. Bob White, who was one of three to be on the last plane to leave Vietnam. "I was just tickled to death to be out."
Coffee, who spent seven years and nine days in the Hanoi Hilton, after his RA5-C Vigilante reconnaissance aircraft was hit by enemy fire on Feb. 3, 1966. He was on an intelligence-gathering mission against a heavily defended portion of the coast of North Vietnam. He was held prisoner until Feb. 12, 1973.
Also attending the ceremony was retired U.S. Navy Capt. Jim Hickerson, who spent one week shy of five years and three months in captivity, and was captured Dec. 22, 1967. The then-lieutenant commander was about 10 miles south of Hai Phong when his aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile and he was forced to eject. He remained a prisoner of war until March 14, 1973.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Thomas spent 11 months in captivity. Thomas was captured May 19, 1972, when his aircraft was shot down during a combat mission a few miles from Quang Tri City, South Vietnam. Thomas was released March 28, 1973.
And the last American to be repatriated during Operation Homecoming, retired U.S. Army Maj. Bob White, who was captured Nov. 15, 1969, when his aircraft was hit while on a visual reconnaissance mission. He ejected over South Vietnam after the aircraft caught fire.
During his time in captivity he spent approximately 19 months in a cage that was four feet by six-and-a-half feet and only four feet high. He estimates that he spent 23.5 hours a day in those cages. He was not reported on the Paris POW lists and was later revealed as being held in a remote South Vietnamese village. He was released in the delta, and evacuated by helicopter to Saigon where he was received by a C-9 aircraft. Finally, White arrived here in the early morning hours of April 4, 40 years ago. Although his journey was long, members of the Hickam and Oahu community turned out in hundreds to welcome him home.
"It was pretty special then," White said. "I have some really fond memories of that day."
In 1973, U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter aircraft flew 36 sorties in support of Operation Homecoming, with the final sortie arriving April 4, 1973. The prisoners of war in attendance collectively gave more than 16 years of their lives in captivity. They are proud to be home and will never forget their experiences, as long as they live.
"Every night we would sign off by tapping," Coffee said, continuing to demonstrate on the podium making the microphones amplify each rap on the wood. "We had calluses on our knuckles because it was our primary means of communication. Every night you would tap to you neighbor in the next cell, or he would tap to you. We would always exchange [tap, tap, tap.] God Bless or G-B. [tap, tap, tap.] G-N, for good night. [tap, tap, tap.] G-B-A, God bless America."
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