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
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: RA5C
Missions: 12

Official pre-capture photo


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.


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

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


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


Posted on: Tuesday, August 8, 2006
Heart surgery forces Coffee to suspend campaign
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Jerry Coffee

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


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."

Read more:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~   09/17/2016
Gerald Coffee after a ceremony commemorating National Prisoner of War (POW) /
Missing In Action (MIA) Recognition Day outside the Pentagon, Sept