Richard Whitson was born in Brooklyn, NY. His father owned and operated an ice cream business, while his mother, a Skidmore College graduate, worked as a commercial artist. His family moved to Ridgewood, NJ, when he was eight and he started at Harrison public school. His mother went on to be a founding member of the Ridgewood Art Association and he became a very active Boy Scout. Richard was 12 when the attack on Pearl Harbor took place and he, like many others his age, participated in scrap metal drives and maintained a Victory garden to compensate for rationing.
Richard entered Rutgers University as a student in 1947, majoring in business administration. During his freshman year, he lived at the Raritan Arsenal, which had only recently been an Italian prisoner of war camp and was still furnished with barbed-wire, machine gun towers, and barracks. During his sophomore year, he joined the Rutgers chapter of Delta Upsilon Fraternity. There, he learned skills such as public speaking and became heavily involved in campus life. He continued to participate in ROTC after the mandatory first two years and became the cadet captain of the Scarlet Rifles, which was the predecessor of the modern Rutgers University Queens Guard.
The Korean War started when Richard was a junior at Rutgers and it was clear to him that he would be going into the military right after graduation. Commissioned as a lieutenant, he went on to Fort Dix to start Jump School and be trained as a paratrooper. After his training was complete, he was shipped off to Yokohama, Japan, where he was trained in radiological, chemical, and biological warfare at Camp Drake. From there, he was moved to Busan, South Korea, and was assigned to the 17th Infantry.
His unit consisted of a mix of U.S. and Korean troops and frequently fought skirmishes against Chinese forces. Richard discusses at length the challenges of being a new lieutenant in combat and leading a multilingual force. This interview contains many colorful and detailed stories regarding the everyday life of a soldier during the war, numerous close calls, as well as the tragic realities of the war.