NEW ORLEANS - Family, friends and political leaders gathered Saturday at a memorial service for Stephen Ambrose, recalling the writer's gruff passion for the famous leaders and unsung heroes of American history.
"Stephen Ambrose was one of the greatest historians of his time or any time. More importantly, in my view, he was a true patriot and a true friend," said former President George Bush, speaking in front of the National D-Day Museum, which Ambrose founded.
Ambrose, 66, a part-time Helena resident, died of lung cancer Oct. 13 at a hospital in Bay St. Louis, Miss. He was buried on Wednesday in Bay St. Louis.
Saturday's ceremony was worthy of a war hero, with a singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner," a reading of the Pledge of Allegiance and a U.S. Marine band playing patriotic songs. Other speakers included former U.S. Sen. George McGovern, NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and former U.S. Rep. Lindy Boggs.
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Ambrose never served in the military but was thanked by war veterans Saturday for books such as "Citizen Soldiers," which detailed the heroics of everyday American men who fought in World War II.
McGovern read from a U.S. Senate resolution that praised Ambrose for "capturing the greatness of the American spirit."
Ambrose taught at the University of New Orleans for 24 years and wrote books about former Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, the Transcontinental Railroad and the Lewis and Clark expedition of the American West.
He became well known in 1994 when he published "D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II." The book used interviews with veterans to recount the bloody invasion of Normandy.
Leonard Lomell, a U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Normandy invasion, said Saturday that Ambrose's work brought new light to the sacrifices of the country's veterans.
"Thank you, Stephen Ambrose, on behalf of all veterans of World War II, on behalf of all Americans," Lomell said. "Steve, you were the greatest."