Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours: One Legacy of a Historian | Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours: One Legacy of a Historian

Stephen Ambrose speaking at D-Day Museum
Stephen Ambrose speaking at the opening of the D-Day Museum

Edie Ambrose, Stephen Ambrose’s niece, served as his teaching assistant at the University of New Orleans. She received her Ph.D. in history at Tulane University and helped her uncle with the formation and development of Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. In this article, Edie takes a look back at Stephen Ambrose’s life to provide insight into how he founded Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours.

Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours: One Legacy of a Historian, Wisconsin Boy and Family Man

Everyone who loves history knows that Stephen E. Ambrose was the author of more than two dozen books on World War II and American history, including the bestsellers, D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II and Band of Brothers. He is perhaps most famous for the latter because of the epic HBO series Band of Brothers that Professor Ambrose served on as an executive producer. Fewer people may be familiar with the fact that he founded the D-Day Museum in New Orleans, which has grown into The National WWII Museum. Fewer still may know that in the late 1970s, his research travel prompted him to lead tours that went to the locations about which he wrote. As a result, Ambrose perfected the combination of expert history and travel during the decades before he founded Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours, and passed that legacy on to the next generation of historians.

America’s Premier Historian

A look back at Stephen Ambrose’s life provides insight into how he became known as America’s premier historian for most of his career. Born in Decatur, Illinois in 1936, Professor Ambrose was one of three boys. His father served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater from 1941-1946, and then retired from the U.S. Naval Reserves as a commander in 1950. His mother was a homemaker who also served upon several public boards—causing Ambrose to lament that she deserved the right to compete equally with men. During WWII, his mother worked for the war effort at a local pea canning factory in Whitewater Wisconsin while raising young Steve and his two brothers.

In 1961, Ambrose earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and started his career as a historian of the Civil War. A few years later, at the behest of the ex-President, he embarked on the task of editing General Eisenhower’s wartime papers. But Ambrose continued to teach five classes a semester and summer school for the next thirty-five years. His first calling was teaching, but during this time, he also published more than two dozen highly acclaimed works of history.

Professor Stephen AmbroseIn 1983, Ambrose decided to create a unique historical record when he founded the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, an archive dedicated to preserving the combat memories of the ordinary GIs of WWII. As told by the surviving individuals, Ambrose and the Eisenhower Center staff have produced transcripts from the recorded oral histories submitted by thousands of veterans. Working meticulously with those interviews and drawing from his own considerable experience as Eisenhower’s biographer, Ambrose wrote the acclaimed histories of Pegasus Bridge and D-Day, the 101st Airborne (Band of Brothers) and the Allied campaign to liberate Europe. In researching those books, he also walked the beaches and explored the battlefields with the intellectual curiosity of a scholar and the historian’s studied care. His writing and skills at analysis speak for themselves.

The Evolution of Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours

It is from those experiences that Ambrose formulated, planned, and designed the signature tours and core itineraries deployed by Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours today. In creating that foundation of knowledge, Ambrose began his work operating history tours in 1979 when he and his wife Moira Buckley Ambrose led the inaugural D-Day to the Rhine Tour together. That was such a rousing success that they continued to lead tours to Europe together late into the 1990s. During this time, Steve and Moira also developed one of the most beloved Study Abroad opportunities at the University of New Orleans, the program that still takes students from New Orleans to study in Innsbruck, Austria.

Ambrose was not the only one speaking on these tours. Many of the other contributors were people he met at various sites where he stopped on tour, but featured speakers also included people he knew because of his scholarly work. Among the many top notch speakers he was able to assemble were British General Bernard Montgomery; Hans von Luck, a Colonel in the German Army who was Rommel’s assistant; Major John Howard who led his glider-borne British infantry to take the critical Pegusus Bridge in the very early morning hours of 6 June 1944; and Major General John Frost, whose leadership at Arnhem bridge was chronicled in the movie A Bridge Too Far. Part of that experience lives on in the history tours that Ambrose designed himself and that Stephen Ambrose Tours continues to operate in the same spirit.

Colonel Louis Rivet, the head of the Deuxième Bureau, France’s CIA during World War II was also among the well-known speakers Ambrose recruited. As another Ambrose associate Peter McClean recalls, the group was standing in the cathedral in Sainte-Mère-Église when Rivet said, “You people are looking at the big doors, the big battles. You are looking at the movements of armies, the big picture.” Then he pointed to the windows and said, “Look at the small windows. That’s where the trouble will be. Terrorists.”

Stephen Ambrose on tour
Stephen Ambrose on an early D-Day tour









On another tour and quite by chance, British Major John Howard happened to overhear Stephen Ambrose speaking to his group on Pegasus Bridge—the major objective of the British airborne troops during the D-Day Invasion—and he interrupted the talk to suggest, “Perhaps I can add something. I’m Major John Howard.” 

The great statesman George McGovern, who served as a B-24 pilot in World War II, also joined and spoke to the D-Day to the Rhine Tour, adding more of the personal dimension to that experience. McGovern also became a close friend of Stephen and Moira. One of Ambrose’s last books—The Wild Blue, which recounted the heroism of the boys turned men who flew B-24s over Germany during the war, also featured McGovern as its lead subject.

It is these moments on the tour that provide a taste of the legacy and historic detail that went into creating Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours, and that continue to make these tours stand out from all others. One of the stories that McGovern would share on the D-Day tour was about an interview he did on a radio station in Innsbruck discussing his days as a pilot in WWII. After his plane had been hit and while McGovern tried to save his crew, he had to give the order to drop the bombs they were carrying on a farm below. The thought that he had killed innocent civilians had haunted him ever since. But in the middle of the interview, a farmer called in to say that it was his farm that McGovern had bombed and he wanted McGovern to know that he and his family had been taking shelter in a ditch and had survived. That news made McGovern’s day.

Stephen and Moira Ambrose
Stephen Ambrose and his wife Moira










At the close of the century, Steve and Moira worked with their niece Edie Ambrose and her husband Yakir Katz to create Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. It was a wonderful time of collaboration between two generations as Ambrose continued to write various great books and they designed the tours to match his most recent topic. While still writing about and documenting the memories of the citizen-soldiers of World War II, Ambrose also devoted much of the final years of his life to founding the National D-Day Museum, which opened in New Orleans on June 6, 2000, with a ticker tape parade of WWII veterans. The museum has since grown into The National WWII Museum. 

The Tour Company Today

Though Stephen Ambrose passed away in 2002, Edie and Yakir have continued to maintain the family legacy by running Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours which now offers more than twenty WWII and historical tours in the United States, Europe and the Pacific. As always when the founder was leading Ambrose tours, only the most qualified historians conduct those tours today. Each with their own specific background in the study of WWII, they are leaders in their field, world-renowned authors, podcast hosts, documentary filmmakers and sought-after experts for articles, movies and TV shows. Many of them have also interviewed of WWII veterans and conducted their own research about where they fought. It is that continued diligence that makes all of the company’s tours unmatched in their authenticity.

Edie and Yakir remain true to Dr. Ambrose’s favorite motto, “The best way to study history is to see the places where it was made.”

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