17 September 2009

Mile High Cure?

Trooper Herbert Eugene Roland Olstead #72 was in a motorcycle accident on March 28, 1922 while on duty that resulted in a “fractured skull, partial paralysis of the face, and total deafness in both ears.”[1] He remained a Trooper, under expert care, and in 1925, Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf contacted J. Klein, Jr., Commander of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station asking for assistance in treating Trooper Olstead.

There is one thing that we have not been in a position to try, and which has been a cure in a number of reported cases. The remedy I refer to, is an Airplane Flight at high altitude, inasmuch, as we want the experiment and the efforts to regain for this man his hearing to be as exhaustive as possible, we are desirous of arranging for him to make such a flight, and he is not only willing but anxious to try it. Knowing that the Army and Naval Flying Corps have both co-operated in experiments of this kind all over the Country, I am communicating with you to determine what steps will be necessary to arrange such an experimental flight for Trooper Olstead, and whatever is necessary to accomplish this experiment we will be very glad to do.[2]

Schwarzkopf was directed to contact Major Hensley at Mitchel Field, Long Island, as Lakehurst was “not equipped with any Airplanes at the present time, and that the only ones that are contemplated bringing to the Station are two heavy bombing type for use in parachute jumping and tests.”[3]

Major Hensley replied to HNS favorably:

From your letter it seems to me that Trooper Olmstead’s case is one which might yield to the airplane treatment and therefore I suggest that you have him come to Mitchel Field some morning when weather conditions are favorable. I will have our specialist diagnose his case and then he can be given a flight or as many flights as appear to benefit him.[4]

Trooper Olstead reported to Mitchel Field as directed and on February 16, 1925 he wrote to Colonel Schwarzkopf to relate his experiences:

My Dear Colonel, I had a good flight to-day, was up eleven thousand and a few odd hundred feet and went thru about six loop the loops…When we landed I said to Captain Kessling we sure did travel. He said, “Oh 120 miles per hour is nothing…” Tomorrow, Tuesday, is when the real thrills start: A nosedive is on the program…I will say that the flight today sure did some good as Sergt. O’Connor spoke to me when we landed and it is the first time, since the unlucky day, that I could feel the pressure of a human voice against my ear drum…Major Hensley said to have confidence in the flights.[5]

Olstead was convinced that the flying treatments were helping to improve his hearing. For example, “this morning on the way over to Mitchel Field a car in back of me blew the horn and it almost scared me stiff. That is the first time I heard a horn so plain. I could always hear most of them, but they sounded as thou [sic] they were miles away.”[6]

Although his hearing had not yet been totally restored, Sergeant O’Connor, who was in charge of him, “told me this morning that Major Hensley said they will cure me if it take[s] a month, and I should not get discouraged. I told the Sergeant to tell Major Hensley they will have one big job on there [sic] hands if they try to discourage me, that [sic] impossible. I really know when I leave here I will [be] O.K. once more. I have a feeling that I never did have before, just don’t know how to explain it, but it must be a good sign.”[7]

It was about a month later that Major Hensley reported back to Colonel Schwarzkopf about Olstead’s progress. It was not looking good.

My dear Colonel, On Monday last Captain Keesling took Trooper Olstead up for the fifth time. Olstead, of whom we have become very fond, thinks that his hearing has improved. Personally I see very little evidence of it. He has received every kind of a loop, tail-spin, dive, barrel-roll and stall known to aviation. It is possible that it will bear fruit later but I am of the opinion that further flights would be useless.[8]
Schwarzkopf was deeply grateful for the assistance and courtesies Major Hensley extended to the Department of State Police and to Trooper Olstead, but he reluctantly agreed that, “the possibilities along the lines of benefiting Olstead by Aviation have been fully exhausted.”

Chapter 188 of the newly enacted Laws of 1925 created a Retirement and Benevolent Fund for the Department of State Police that provided for the retirement and pensioning of State Troopers. Herbert Olstead became one of the first, if not the first, New Jersey State Troopers to be pensioned. Department Physician Dr. Leo Haggerty certified that Trooper Olstead was “so injured while in the performance of his duty as a Trooper of the State Police, that he is totally incapacitated for further duty with said Organization”[9]

On April 14th, Special Order 118 was issued stating that “in accordance with instructions from the State House Commission, issued in compliance with Chapter 188, P.L. 1925, Trooper Herbert R. Olstead, #72, Troop “A” New Jersey State Police, is hereby placed on the Pension List starting April 1, 1925. Discharge from the New Jersey State Police will be issued Trooper Olstead dated March 31, 1925…citing reason of physical disability.”[10] Having earned $2,000 per year as a Trooper, he was granted a pension of $1,200 per year.[11]

Unfortunately, there are no further reports about Trooper Olstead and the state of his hearing in his file. All that is known is that he lived in New Jersey for the rest of his life and died in June 1983 in Livingston, Essex County, New Jersey at the age of 93.

[1] Leo Haggerty, M.D. Physician’s Statement. June 9, 1931.
[2] H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Letter to JH Klein, Jr., Commander, Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, NJ. January 14, 1925
[3] H. Norman Schwarzkopf. Letter to Maj. Hensley, Mitchel Field, Long Island. January 17,1925.
[4] W.N. Hensley, Jr., Major, Air Service, Commanding, Mitchel Field, Long Island. Letter to Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf. January 27, 1925
[5] Herbert R. Olstead. Letter to Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf. February 16, 1925.
[6] Herbert R. Olstead. Letter to Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf. February 16, 1925.
[7] Herbert R. Olstead. Letter to Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf. February 18, 1925.
[8] W.N. Hensley, Jr, Major, Mitchel Field, Long Island. Letter to Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf. March 12, 1925.
[9] Comptroller of the Treasury and Secretary of the State House Commission. Letter to Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf. April 13, 1925.
[10] Special Order 118. April 14, 1925.
[11] In 1923, a Trooper’s salary was $1,400 per year. They also received a food and lodging allowance of $600 per year for a total of $2,000.