Harold Bradley, 96, walked out of his house one day earlier this month to find his neighbors lined along the street, cheering his name.
The former commander in the 740th Tank Battalion then hopped into a golf cart and went down to the neighborhood park along Clear Creek bearing his name. It was there, on July 14, that a representative from the French embassy in Houston waited to confer the Legion of Honour pin, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits.
“It was just great,” Bradley said, describing the sounds of the Army music and cheers with a big smile on his face.
Bradley, a League City resident, is something of a legend in his neighborhood on the west side of the city. He’s a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge and other battles in the European theater toward the end of the war.
Despite the decades that have passed since his wartime experience, Bradley still moves with a deftness that belies his age and he tells stories rich with detail.
Bradley arrived in Europe shortly after the U.S. military staged the Normandy invasion and was part of a tank division that went to reinforce the Allied forces at the Battle of the Bulge, he said.
“They didn’t have any tanks, so they sent us to a depot to get some tanks,” he said. “Only about two tanks that were equipped with guns could even run, so we spent the night putting guns on tanks.
“We ended up going into battle with insufficient tanks on Dec. 19,” he said. “It was so cold, and we met with Hitler’s hand-picked tank commander, Joachim Peiper.”
The Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Counteroffensive, marked the last time the Germans staged an offensive during the war. It ran from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
The 740th Battalion faced off and defeated Peiper’s forces at Stoumont, Belgium, forcing them into retreat, Bradley said.
That wouldn’t be the last time Bradley would face combat, he said. His tank battalion would face Peiper’s forces at La Gleize.
After Peiper left Belgium and returned to Germany, Bradley and his fellow tank commanders turned their attention to crossing the Siegfried Line, a German defensive line.
“Once we crossed the Rhine river, the Germans started giving up in droves,” he said. “They were packed on the roads.”
Bradley then watched the end of the war by meeting the Russian army at the Baltic Sea, he said.
“We were all jumping for joy because we thought that would mean we’d get to go home,” he said. “But they ended up stationing us for the German occupation.”
Fortunately, however, after a stretch in Germany, Bradley had the standing to secure his return home, at the time to Oklahoma, where he’d grown up, he said.
Bradley’s stories aren’t just about his time in Europe, however. Even before landing overseas, Bradley had his first encounter with the destructive power of war while training at Fort Knox, he said.
Bradley was practicing on a target range when a younger soldier next to him picked up what he thought was a dud 35mm tank round and started pounding it against the ground, Bradley said.
“I was so close I could have reached out and touched him,” Bradley recalled.
Before he could do anything, the round went off and blew off the younger soldier’s arms and legs and killed one of Bradley’s best friends, he said.
The incident wounded 19 people, including Bradley, he said.
The French honor is just the latest in a decorated military career. Bradley also earned the Purple Heart for an injury to his hand during an exchange with German SS troops shortly after crossing the Roer River in Germany, he said.
Bradley also received three battle stars and two presidential citations for his wartime career, he said.
Businesses across Galveston County have been hurting because of pandemic-related closures and lost sales, but some cities have taken up the mantel of providing direct help to local companies.
For some cities, which also have pandemic-related expenses, providing that help might be challenging, but others say the expense is worth protecting the business community.
Some cities gave businesses money through their economic development corporations.
The La Marque Economic Development Corp., for instance, issued two rounds of funding totaling $974,000 to businesses facing hardships because of the pandemic, spokeswoman Colleen Martin said.
“The board met and decided that at this time and in this climate, the best thing to do would be to help them retain the businesses that we have,” Martin said.
The money came from the corporation’s reserve funds and was given to 125 of La Marque’s 400 or so businesses, Martin said.
For the businesses that got the money, it was a life saver.
Jimmy Sims, co-owner of Art of Coffee, had just opened the shop’s new La Marque location, 401 Laurel St., when the pandemic hit, he said.
The money it got from the grant program helped to pay for rent, electricity and payroll, Sims said.
“It took a lot of burden off the profits being down so low,” Sims said.
Dickinson and Texas City made similar moves with their development corporations.
Texas City offered two rounds of grants to business with fewer than 50 employees.
In Dickinson, the city used $400,000 to send $7,272 to each of 53 businesses, said Scott Jones, CEO and executive director of the Dickinson Economic Development Corp.
The corporation diverted money from other projects that have been delayed because of the pandemic, such as its Gulf Coast Public Market, a proposal for a food and drink vendor location, Jones said.
“Everybody’s hurting the same way,” Jones said. “We recommended, and the council and the board both accepted, that we have to help out these local businesses.”
It just makes sense to give the money to businesses, which generated the sales tax that funds the corporation anyway, Jones said.
“If they go under, they’re not going to be able to do much good for the city,” Jones said.
This kind of assistance for businesses is crucial to ensuring their survival, said Jenny Senter, president of the Texas City-La Marque Chamber of Commerce.
“Having no income coming in really creates a void that is sometimes insurmountable,” Senter said.
Not every city has the ability to give grants like some have, but shops and companies that got extra help have needed it, Senter said.
“These grants offered by some of the cities have been the lifeline,” she said.
Such assistance has helped Santa Fe businesses get through the spring closure, said Gina Bouvier, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce.
Several local businesses applied to state or federal aid programs, but when they were denied they turned to the city funds, Bouvier said.
“They’re good, honest, hardworking people, and they’re not going to reach out and take advantage of funds if they don’t absolutely need it,” Bouvier said.
Santa Fe’s Economic Development Corp. allocated $187,330 to 28 businesses in the city, Director Stacey Baker said.
Unlike other cities, the money didn’t come from the corporation but from the city’s state-funded coronavirus relief money, Baker said.
In Galveston, people have been talking about providing help to businesses for months, said Gina Spagnola, president and CEO of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce.
It would be a good use of sales tax money, she said.
“We have to save those that are investing in our city,” Spagnola said.
Although the city is starting to talk about giving financial help to island businesses, Spagnola worries it’s already too late for some, she said.
Spagnola wants the city to set up an easy way to launch such a program during disasters in the future, she said.
But assistance to businesses could still be a help, city Economic Development Coordinator Garret McLeod said.
The Galveston Industrial Development Corp. will hear options to help businesses next week that include direct grants, utility assistance or marketing assistance, McLeod said.
How much funding is available will depend on which program the board chooses because each program pulls from a different pot of money, McLeod said.
“I think really we’ve taken the opportunity to study what other cities have done, try to understand what’s been successful,” McLeod said.
League City didn’t offer financial assistance to businesses because it lacks a mechanism to do that, spokeswoman Sarah Greer Osborne said, explaining that, unlike other area cities, League City doesn’t have an industrial or economic development corporation.
And only 25 percent of state aid money could have been used for small business grants, she said. But cities also have to use that chunk for city facility assistance, such as protective equipment and telecommuting equipment for employees, she said.
“We have used that 25 percent of the 100 to keep our city open and functioning,” Greer Osborne said.
League City is considering using some of its state relief money to give masks to businesses or set up a testing program for restaurants and retail shops, Greer Osborne said.
The coronavirus pandemic threw a kink in Independence Village’s plans to host this year’s annual gala — an event that normally could account for as much as $30,000 or $40,000 in funds for the assisted living facility for those with disabilities.
Facing that daunting loss, officials sought residents’ input and came up with an innovative replacement.
Together, they would host a virtual gala for residents, who are accustomed to regular trips outside and suddenly find themselves extremely isolated, said Susan Bailey, volunteer marketing director for the facility. That, combined with a virtual raffle, might prove successful, organizers hope.
“The main key right now is thinking outside the box,” Bailey said. “You want to come up with something unique to the organization that you can market to companies and individuals to fundraise.”
It’s a problem nonprofit organizations across Galveston County face as coronavirus pandemic-related closures and uncertainty continue and gala season approaches.
Galas and other in-person events frequently account for large portions of those organizations’ fundraising efforts each year. And, while groups are using the opportunity to innovate and try new ideas, the future remains uncertain.
“They’ve been hit from all angles,” said Allan Matthews, grants director for The Moody Foundation.
During something like Hurricane Harvey, nonprofit organizations in Galveston County can reach outside to make up for some of the lost donations, Matthews said. But now, nonprofits across the country and world are in a similar position.
Major donors are giving less because their businesses have taken a hit, and smaller donors, who might account for 80 percent of an organization’s fundraising, have lost jobs and scaled back, Matthews said.
“Then, because you can’t socially distance at galas and major fundraisers, that also hurts,” he said. “That can often mean up to 20 or 30 percent of an annual budget.”
The Galveston Humane Society, for instance, recently had to cancel its 2020 PAWS Gala, which officials estimated would mean a $100,000 hole in its budget, said Liz Rogers Alvarado, spokeswoman for the society. That came on the back of the society also canceling its surf dog contest, which raises about $10,000.
Instead, the society is turning August into a new event, called Paws-a-Thon, during which past gala honorees and pet owners will share stories about why they support the shelter and ask others to do the same, Rogers Alvarado said.
“We are excited about the Paws-a-Thon but expect to recapture only a very small fraction of what we typically raise from the gala,” she said.
Because virtual events are new and people are uncertain about sponsoring and attending such events, it’s more difficult to raise the same amount of money as with an in-person gala, said Katherine Hughes, interim executive director at the Resource & Crisis Center of Galveston County.
The center recently had to cancel its annual gala and plan a virtual event instead, set for Aug. 29, she said.
The summer is typically a slow time for fundraising anyway, so organizations are really trying to find new, contactless ways of raising money, said Holly McDonald, spokeswoman for The Salvation Army.
“We’ve seen a decline in our regular donations,” she said. “We would be in a hole, probably, if not for special COVID-related donations.”
Not every nonprofit is in the same spot, however.
“Honestly, it’s been a little bit of a mixed bag,” said Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation. “A lot of people can’t make contributions like they once made, but some that still have the ability are making maybe even bigger donations than usual because they know others can’t.”
The foundation’s virtual spring appeal fundraiser, for instance, took place shortly after the start of Texas’ stay-at-home order and was more successful than the 2019 edition, Stokes said.
The foundation also benefited from receiving some payroll funding via the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, Stokes said. The loans are designed to help businesses continue paying employees through the shutdown.
Somewhere around 40 percent of local nonprofits were able to secure some funding via that program, Matthews estimated.
Because of all that, the Galveston Bay Foundation is stable in the short term, Stokes said. But the future is uncertain, and if the country goes into a deeper recession, the foundation might face future cutbacks, he said.
Although some local organizations like the Galveston Bay Foundation benefited from the Paycheck Protection Program, that isn’t a help to the local chambers of commerce.
“It’s been extremely difficult for chambers of commerce across the nation,” said Gina Spagnola, president and CEO of the Galveston Regional Chamber of Commerce. “They left the 501c6 groups out of any kind of PPP funding. You throw that in with the fact that most chambers are dependent on business membership, which is also hurting, and special events, it’s a very difficult time.”
Chamber officials are busy studying how organizations are having success fundraising across the nation and exploring new ideas, but some involve expensive software, she said.
The League City Regional Chamber of Commerce has been ramping up the number of webinars and question-and-answer sessions it’s offering members during the pandemic, said Dewan Clayborn, president and CEO of the chamber.
“We’ve had events where the Texas comptroller and the commissioner of education, Mike Morath, have talked,” he said. “The community can ask them one-on-one questions. There’s a lot of value in that.”
Because so many chamber members are also hurting, the goal is to show League City businesses and people what value a chamber can provide, Clayborn said. That way, maybe more people will donate and join chambers once the pandemic ends.
More people than normal are dying in Galveston County. COVID-19 infections are only part of the reason.
The Galveston County Health District is seeking answers from the Texas Department of State Health Services about why the state’s reported COVID-19 death toll is 25 percent higher than what local officials are reporting.
As of Thursday afternoon, the health district reported 73 COVID-19-related deaths in Galveston County. At the same time, the state health department reported 92 deaths.
The health district doesn’t intend to increase its death reports to correspond with the state’s numbers, health district spokeswoman Ashley Tompkins said.
“The state is reporting a higher number of COVID-19 fatalities in Galveston County,” Tompkins said. “This could be because the person passed away in a different county, ZIP codes are crossing jurisdictions or the county recorded on the death record.
“The health district’s vitals department files death certificates for those who pass away in Galveston County,” she said. “The health district would have to be notified if a Galveston County resident passed away in a different county.”
The difference in numbers appeared after the state health department announced it had begun counting COVID-19 fatalities by identifying them through the cause of death listings on death certificates.
Previously, the state health department had been counting fatalities as they were reported by local health departments, like the health district.
The state’s change led to an increase of more than 600 deaths in Texas’ total death toll. As of Thursday morning, 6,190 people had died of coronavirus-related causes in Texas, according to the state health department.
In making the change to counting by death certificates, the health department said its reporting of fatalities would be faster and include more comprehensive demographic data. It also would ensure consistent reporting across the state and give a clearer picture about the day people died, officials said.
The change, however, created new discrepancies.
The county health district has published near-daily reports on local coronavirus cases, test results and demographic data since March. Its numbers are widely cited by news organizations, including The Daily News. The state’s numbers also are frequently cited in reports about the pandemic in Texas.
Tompkins said Wednesday she didn’t know whether the health district’s numbers would ever be adjusted to match the state’s death count.
“We don’t know what data they’re looking at,” Tompkins said.
The health district has asked the state health department for an explanation about the differences, Tompkins said.
“The health district is working with the state to access the public health records it is using to report COVID-19 fatalities,” she said.
The Texas Department of State Health Services did not respond Thursday to a request for comment about the data.
Late Thursday, however, the department announced it was decreasing its statewide count by 225 fatalities.
When the department switched the way it reported fatalities, an automation error caused some deaths to be counted even though the death certificates did not list COVID-19 as a direct cause of death, the department said.
While state records count more COVID-19 deaths in the county than the health district’s do, both sets of data report the same trends in coronavirus deaths: There was a steep initial increase in deaths in April, attributed almost entirely to coronavirus infections in long-term care facilities, and then fatalities dropped off in May.
Deaths started rising again in late June, corresponding with the sharp increase in coronavirus cases in Galveston County and other parts of Texas.
Where the data differ, for now, is how large the death toll was in more recent months. According to the health district’s data, 13 Galveston County residents died from coronavirus-related causes in June and 23 people have died so far in July.
According to the state health department, 21 people died in June and 33 people have died in July.
No new local deaths were reported by the health district or the state health department Thursday.