11/18/06 - Posted from the Daily Record newsroom
Spc. Jim Benoit and fiancée Pamela Callahan share a moment at Walter Reed earlier this year.


Defying wounds, vet to say wedding vows today

Seventy-nine surgeries can't keep 24-year-old from getting married



Army Spc. Jim Benoit met his fiancée, Pamela Callahan, in January 2005, just 21/2 days before the Wharton native left for a second tour of duty in Iraq. Both shy, the two exchanged just a few words, but Callahan promised to send a letter to the serious soldier.

A romance would grow as the two corresponded for seven months during his deployment, until Sept. 7, 2005, when the 23-year-old Benoit was critically wounded. An improvised explosive device, or IED, exploded under the 9,000-pound armored Humvee Benoit was driving in Baghdad, en route to train Iraqi police.

Callahan, 21, studying to be a preschool teacher at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla., was on a plane two weeks later to visit Benoit at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She would make the trip six times in the first seven months of Benoit's astonishing recovery. He has defied long odds and doctors, who said he would never walk again. Benoit, now 24, can walk and has survived 79 surgeries to repair extensive injuries to his backside.

The couple will marry in Auburndale, Fla., this afternoon, before 50 family and friends at the Town Manor on the Lake, a 1933 estate, now a bed and breakfast, overlooking Lake Juliana.

"It kind of doesn't seem like it's really happening," Benoit said from Walter Reed just four days before his wedding. "Once I get down there I think it will feel real."

"It doesn't feel real," agreed Callahan, who was packing up her belongings at her grandmother's house in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday. "I'm very excited."

Callahan is originally from Mendon, Mass. Her parents, Debra and Thomas Callahan, and her two brothers, Mike, 23, and Dan, 21, (Callahan's twin), will attend the wedding. Benoit's mother, Missy Benoit, and his older brother, David, 26, recently honorably discharged from the Army, will attend as well. Benoit's younger brother, Marc, 19, can not attend because he joined the Marines this summer and is stationed at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Benoit's childhood friend, John Craven, will serve as his best man and Craven's girlfriend, Christine Capen will be the maid of honor.

Before Benoit was injured, Callahan had developed feelings for him and said his injury, which has left Benoit permanently disabled, did not change anything.

Getting serious

One day in June, during one of Pam's visits to Walter Reed, Benoit got very serious and she worried that something was wrong. Instead, Benoit asked Callahan what she thought about getting married. On July 1, Callahan had an engagement ring placed on her finger.

"It's a mixture of excitement and nervousness because everything I've know is changing," Callahan said. "Most of our relationship has been in the hospital. He's almost out and it's a very good feeling."

Immediately following the wedding the couple will go to Disney World for a three-day honeymoon.

Afterwards, the couple hopes to have at least one full month away from the hospital.

Benoit's orders have him residing at Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway Township, effective Dec. 1. Missy Benoit and Picatinny officials arranged for the newlyweds to live on the campus in temporary guest quarters until their handicapped-accessible home under construction in Wharton is ready.

December will be filled with more celebrations -- Callahan will turn 22 on Dec. 10 and plans to attend her college graduation on Dec. 16, when she'll receive a bachelor's degree in pre-kindergarten primary education.

Come January, they will return to Walter Reed for Benoit's 80th surgery.