Jerry Coffee was born in 1934 in Modesto, California. He graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles with a bachelor's degree in Advertising Art, and then enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on August 14, 1957. He entered Naval Aviation Officer Candidate School on November 23, 1957, and was commissioned an Ensign on March 28, 1958. LTJG Coffee was designated a Naval Aviator on August 22, 1959, at NAAS Kingsville, Texas, and then completed F8U (later redesignated F-8) Crusader Replacement Pilot Training with VF-174 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, in February 1960. His first assignment was as an RF-8 pilot with VFP-62 at NAS Cecil Field from February 1960 to February 1963, and during this time he flew photographic reconnaissance missions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. LT Coffee next completed RA-5C Vigilante Replacement Air Group training with VAH-3 at NAS Sanford, Florida, and then continued on with VAH-3 (later redesignated RVAH-3) as an instructor pilot from March 1963 to December 1965. His next assignment was as an RA-5C pilot with RVAH-13 flying off the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CVA-63) from December 1965 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on February 3, 1966. After spending 2,567 days in captivity, CDR Coffee was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at NAS Jacksonville, Florida, and then served with the Navy ROTC unit at the University of California at Berkeley from July 1973 to June 1975. CDR Coffee completed A-4 Skyhawk upgrade training with VA-127 at NAS Lemoore, California, and then served as Commanding Officer of VC-1 in Hawaii from July 1975 to July 1977. After attending National War College at Fort McNair in Washington, D.C., Capt Coffee served on the staff of the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT), at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from July 1978 until his retirement from the Navy on August 1, 1985. During this last assignment, Capt Coffee was Public Affairs Officer for CINCPACFLT, where he served as a Public Speaker at the personal direction of the Chief of Naval Operations. In January 2001, Jerry was named one of the top 10 motivational speakers in the United States.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity while interned as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam on 17 August 1966. Under constant pressure from North Vietnamese interrogators and guards, he experienced harassment, intimidation and ruthless treatment in their attempt to gain military information and cooperative participation for propaganda purposes. He heroically resisted their routine cruelties and never wavered in his devotion and loyalty to the United States. These actions served to inspire and improve the morale of his fellow prisoners in the camp. Displaying extraordinary courage, resourcefulness, and devotion to duty, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.