Hugh Ambrose dies at 48; author of WWII history ‘The Pacific’

From Times staff and wire reports

Hugh Ambrose, a historian who wrote the best-selling World War II history “The Pacific” and served as a consultant when it was turned into an Emmy-award winning HBO miniseries, has died at age 48.

Ambrose died of cancer Saturday in Helena, Mont., his sister Stephenie Ambrose Tubbs said Tuesday.

Hugh Ambrose began the research for “The Pacific” with his father, noted historian Stephen Ambrose, and he carried on after his father’s death in 2002.


That work culminated in the book and a 10-part 2010 HBO miniseries produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks that tells the story of the war’s Pacific Theater through the eyes of individual Marines.

Hugh Alexander Ambrose was born Aug 12, 1966, in Baltimore but grew up in New Orleans, where his father was a professor at the University of New Orleans. Ambrose later served as the vice president of development for the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, which his father helped create.

Ambrose and his family moved to Helena after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005. The Ambrose family had lived in Montana part time, and Hugh Ambrose had earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Montana.

During summer months in college he had worked as a bus driver at Glacier National Park, a job he enjoyed so much that he returned to the park with his family at least once a year, he said in a 2010 interview with the Whitefish Review, a nonprofit literary journal in Montana.

Ambrose’s career as a researcher began while he was in graduate school at the University of Montana in the mid-1990s by helping his father research books such as “Undaunted Courage,” the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

“He needed someone to go get stuff for him, make copies of this and that — and he said, “You’re in the library every day, maybe you could do it.’” Ambrose told the Whitefish Review. “ And then he said the magic words: ‘I’ll pay you.’ ”

He continued to conduct research for his father’s books, including “Nothing Like It in the World” and “Citizen Soldiers.” He also worked on the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” which was based on his father’s book about a company of soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division who fought in Europe from the D-day invasion to the German surrender. “Band of Brothers” was also produced by Spielberg and Hanks.

Ambrose said it was intimidating work at first, and he confined himself to running down information, copying documents and doing fact-checking. But by the time his father was working on “Undaunted Courage,” he would send entire draft chapters to his son. Ambrose said he felt emboldened — making notes and offering suggestions.

“I thought ‘what a knucklehead I am. The guy’s a master historian and here I am with my notes on his book.’ But he called me a few days later and said the notes were great,” he told the Whitefish Review.

Ambrose found his own success with “The Pacific,” an ambitious, best-selling project chronicling America’s war with Japan that he inherited from his father.

“His dad’s legacy was important to him, but he definitely was a historian in his own right,” his wife, Andrea Ambrose, said Tuesday.

Ambrose continued to work on “The Pacific” and raise money for the National World War II Museum after the move to Helena.

He was a trustee for Helena’s Lewis and Clark Library, was on the board of the Myrna Loy Center for the Performing and Media Arts and was the father of two children.

“He was an amazing father and husband and friend, and just the most solid, honest person that I’ve ever met in my life,” Andrea Ambrose said. “He was the kind of guy who just wanted to do the right thing.”

He is survived by his wife, a son and daughter, two brothers and two sisters.