In February of 1966, while flying combat missions over North Vietnam, Navy Captain Gerald Coffee’s RA5-C reconnaissance jet was downed by enemy fire. He parachuted safely but was captured immediately. “Over a period of twelve days, I was taken in a jeep like vehicle at night through bombed out roads. We eventually reached the capital city of Hanoi where I was jailed in the old French built prison. “
For the next seven years and nine days, Captain Coffee was held as a North Vietnamese prisoner of war. While imprisoned, torture was constant and painful. While being held prisoner, Captain Coffee and his fellow soldiers talked privately with each other via a communication system they learned while in their individual cells.
Captain Coffee, one of the longest held POW’s in the communist prisons of Vietnam, says faith was the key to turning the devastating experience into an opportunity for personal growth. “The first two words that I saw scratched on the wall of my cell by the men who were in there before me. The little formula simply said ‘God = Strength.’ That really worked for me We realize in spite of our circumstances, our cup truly did run over because our minds were free in spite of the fact we were incarcerated at the time.”
Captain Coffee, author of his highly acclaimed book, “Beyond Survival,” says faith kept him alive during the darkest days of his captivity. “In fact during my public speaking appearances, I emphasize the four aspects of faith which enabled me to survive—faith in myself, faith in the men around me, faith in America and faith in God. Not only do this formula work in a prison environment, but they can be effective for all of us in our daily lives right here at home.”
Looking back on the seven years and nine days he was imprisoned, Captain Coffee isn’t bitter. In fact, he’s better! In his own words, “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.”
Retired Navy Captain Gerald Coffee—a man who is a real life example of the invincibility of the human spirit!