- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Stephen E. Ambrose, a once-obscure history professor catapulted to prominence by his best-selling books that made aging World War II veterans hometown heroes again, died yesterday of lung cancer. He was 66.
Family members were with Mr. Ambrose, a longtime smoker who was diagnosed in April, when he died at a Bay St. Louis, Miss., hospital, said his son Hugh.
At the National D-Day Museum, which Mr. Ambrose founded, his portrait was placed near the entrance and a sign noted his death. Guests were invited to write messages to the Ambrose family on museum postcards.
"He had a knack in his writing for making you feel like he was sitting right there talking to you," said Tom Gordon, a P-38 reconnaissance pilot in World War II who was visiting the museum from St. Louis.
Douglas Brinkley, a former student of Mr. Ambrose's who followed him as director of the University of New Orleans' Eisenhower Center, said Mr. Ambrose was "the great populist historian of America."
"He didn't write for intellectuals. He wrote for everyday people," Mr. Brinkley said.
He "combined high standards of scholarship with the capacity to make history come alive for a lay audience," said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur Schlessinger Jr.
Mr. Ambrose spent the last six months of his life in a flurry of writing. His last book, "To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian," which he called his love song to his country, is set for release Nov. 19.
Mr. Ambrose burst onto the best-seller list less than a decade ago with his 1994 book "D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II."
Based in large part on interviews with veterans, the book recounted the chaotic, bloody beach invasions of Normandy from the American soldier's perspective.
"He was saying, 'There's all this obsession with high command, but the real story is these citizen soldiers who still live in every town and hamlet in the United States,'" Mr. Brinkley said.
With unadorned but lively prose, Mr. Ambrose continued to captivate readers as he churned out history books at an industrious pace, publishing more than 30, including a half-dozen more best sellers such as "Citizen Soldiers" and "The Wild Blue."
Mr. Ambrose, who spent most of his teaching career at the University of New Orleans, founded the National D-Day Museum to exhibit artifacts entrusted to him by veterans he had interviewed. The old soldiers seemed to relate well to the author, a plain-spoken man who got to the point and wasn't afraid to mix in a few curse words for emphasis. The museum initially was meant for the university campus but turned into a $30 million exhibit in a converted downtown warehouse.
While best known for his World War II books and the D-Day Museum, Mr. Ambrose wrote about aspects of American history. Other books addressed Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, the Transcontinental Railroad and the Lewis and Clark expedition into the American West.
Mr. Ambrose is survived by his wife, Moira, brothers Harry and Bill, and children Hugh, Andy, Barry, Grace and Stephenie.


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