Historian Stephen Ambrose says his diagnosis last month with cancer has prompted him to put aside a project on the Marines' war in the Pacific to concentrate on a new book.
In his first public appearance since the cancer diagnosis, Ambrose, 66, talked Thursday with guests at Da Beach House in Bay St. Louis and read excerpts from his new work titled "A Love Song to America.''
"If I only get a little while to live, I got (a book) I really want to write,'' he said. The book will "talk about what America's done right,'' said Ambrose, author of such works as "Band of Brothers,'' "D-Day'' and "Undaunted Courage,'' which is a history of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Ambrose said the narrative chronicles his early years in the South and his dismay at witnessing the virulent strains of racism and segregation still present. The narrative also shifts to focus on the string of victories made by the forces of integration, particularly in the U.S. military.
"Look how far we've come,'' Ambrose said. "The integration of my country is one of the great things that happened in my life.''
He said the military has made greater strides than the universities, big business or even churches.
"It's because the military deals with the fundamental truth,'' he said. "They want the best fighting force, and the best fighting force is an integrated force.''
Ambrose said finishing the book on the war in the Pacific will depend on his health.
"If I don't get to it, then my partner, my son Hugh, will,'' he said. "One of the great things about the diagnosis I've got is you can do whatever the hell you want.''
The author of 34 books, and longtime smoker, was recently diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He has undergone experimental chemotherapy in New Orleans.
Ambrose is preserving the stories of World War II veterans through his books and in oral histories in the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans.
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