Saturday, September 11, 2010

‘Beyond Survival’ - Thinking of POWs on 9/11

Review by Bill Doughty

Today we remember the lives lost and damage done in the attacks of nine years ago -- 9/11/2001. Next week, Sept. 17, is national POW/MIA Day. Several weeks ago we ended combat operations in Iraq. It’s timely for a good read by a Vietnam-era POW, for patriots who want to preserve the lessons of history -- Gerald Coffee’s Beyond Survival.

No subject -- sex, religion, torture, fear, feces -- is off limit in Coffee’s reflections on life as a Prisoner of War in Hanoi, North Vietnam from 1966 to 1973.

As a Navy pilot, he flew missions from the deck of USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Coffee was shot down and captured in a harrowing encounter. His losses and ultimate triumphs are inspiring.

Coffee introduces us to characters like “Pig Eye,” “Rabbit” and “Louie the Rat.”

Read Beyond Survival and you’ll smell the smells, feel the pain and gain some insights into human nature: the humanity even in a makeshift firing squad; the “kinship of all life” in nurturing a pet bird named Charlie; the collateral, unintended damaging consequences of semantics -- “war” vs. “conflict”; and the brutality of hate.

Coffee reveals the resilient spirit of American warriors and shows the strength of the Code of Conduct as a personal and professional ethos.

He also shows the ingenious codes used by POWs to communicate inside and outside their Hanoi prison, including tapping code, with taps corresponding to letters of the alphabet. POWs may have come up with an early version of texting: TD, TN, TM and YD = Today, Tonight, Tomorrow and Yesterday; GBA = God Bless America. Brushing fingernails against a wall indicated laughing at another prisoner’s coded jokes.

Indomitable spirit... Sense of humor... Inspirational.

Poetry helped him cope. He was inspired by the poem If by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or, being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on";
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!

After 9/11, it is easy for Americans to hate. As a POW who missed years with his precious family, it would be easy for people like Capt. Jerry Coffee to hate. Instead, he shows that love and true strength of character are the ultimate triumphs over evil.

To learn more about his triumphs, visit Capt. Coffee's website:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just happened across your blog and was blown away by your most gracious review of my book "Beyond Survival". And besides having good taste in reading material, you are also a terrific descriptive writer.
I just got the book listed with Amazon, and the first eight "comment" write ups are all FIVE STAR, so you contributed to my present personal High.
Warm aloha from Hawaii.
Jerry Coffee