William Oliver Stone was born September 15, 1946, in New York City, the son of a French woman named Jacqueline (née Goddet) and Louis Stone (born Louis Silverstein), a stockbroker. He grew up in Manhattan and Stamford, Connecticut. His parents met during World War II, when his father was fighting as a part of the Allied force in France. His American-born father was Jewish, although non-practicing, and his French-born mother was a non-practicing Roman Catholic. Stone was raised in the Episcopal Church, and now practices Buddhism.
Stone attended Trinity School in New York City before his parents sent him away to The Hill School, a college-preparatory school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. His parents were divorced abruptly while he was away at school (1962) and this, because he was an only child, marked him deeply. Stone's mother was often absent and his father made a big impact on his life; father-son relationships were to feature heavily in Stone's films perhaps because of this.
He often spent parts of his summer vacations with his maternal grandparents in France, both in Paris and La Ferté-sous-Jouarre in Seine-et-Marne. Stone also worked at 17 in the Paris mercantile exchange in sugar and cocoa – a job that proved inspirational to Stone for his film Wall Street. He speaks French fluently. Stone graduated from The Hill School in 1964.
Stone was admitted into Yale University, but left in June 1965 at age 18 to teach high school students English for six months in Saigon at the Free Pacific Institute in South Vietnam. Afterwards, he worked as a wiper on a United States Merchant Marine ship in 1966, traveling to Oregon. He returned to Yale, where he dropped out a second time (in part due to working on an autobiographical novel
A Child's Night Dream, published 1997 by St. Martin's Press).
In April 1967, Stone enlisted in the United States Army and requested combat duty in Vietnam. From September 16, 1967 to April 1968, he served in Vietnam with 2nd Platoon, B Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Infantry Division and was twice wounded in action. He was then transferred to the First Cavalry Division participating in long range patrols before being transferred again to drive for a motorized infantry unit of the division until November 1968. For his service, his military awards include the Bronze Star with "V" Device for heroism, the Purple Heart with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster to denote two awards, the Air Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge.