Gerald “Jerry” Coffee was born in Modesto, California, and joined the Navy in 1957 after graduating from UCLA with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
In 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Jerry was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying low level reconnaissance missions over Cuba, taking the photos ultimately used by the United States U.N. ambassador to prove the existence of Soviet missiles there.
He was featured in the 2007 History Channel series The Man, The Moment, and the Machine. His daring mission is also documented in Michael Dobb’s book One Minute to Midnight Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War
In February of 1966, while flying combat missions over North Vietnam, his reconnaissance jet was downed by enemy fire. He parachuted safely but was captured immediately.
For the next seven years he was held as a POW in the Communist prisons of North Vietnam.
He was repatriated in February, 1973.
Jerry returned to operational duties. He retired from active duty in the Navy after 28 years of service.
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, and the Vietnam Service Medal with 13 stars.
Jerry earned a Masters Degree in political science from Cal-Berkeley. He studied at the prestigious National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
Jerry and his wife reside in Aiea, Hawaii. They have 6 adult children, 7 grandchildren and 2 yellow Labs.