Never-before-seen footage tells story of Vietnam veteran

By: Maria Allard | Roseville-Eastpointe Eastsider | Published December 4, 2023

 James “Skip” Liberty served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971.

James “Skip” Liberty served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971.

Photo from “Skip Liberty, Shooting in Vietnam”


EASTPOINTE — When James “Skip” Liberty left for Vietnam in 1968, his Uncle Gus gave him a Super 8 camera.

“He was a big-time camera guy,” Liberty said. “He said, ‘Whatever you do, just take movies of everything you do.’”

Liberty, who grew up in Detroit and Redford Township, took his uncle’s advice and documented his time while serving in the U.S. Army from ’68 to ’71. The service member logged three hours of film, more than 300 still photos and four hours of audio recordings. Liberty, 75, never saw the footage until recently.

In June 2022, the Vietnam veteran met Savannah College of Art and Design student Tommy Dilger while filming at Kennedy Park in Eastpointe for another movie: Keith Famie’s documentary, “Detroit: The City of Hot Rods & Muscle Cars.”

When talking to each other, Dilger found out about Liberty’s home movies. The 21-year-old film student knew there was a story waiting to be told in the dusty photographs and long-lost Super 8 film stock. The pair kept in touch, and for nine months Dilger compiled Liberty’s archives to create the 56-minute film, “Skip Liberty, Shooting in Vietnam.”

The public will have the opportunity to see the movie. It will be shown at 2 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society, 16600 Stephens Road. Dilger’s finished product includes Liberty at basic training; working on turbine engines at Marble Mountain Air Facility with the 282nd Assault Helicopter Company, known as the Black Cats; flying as a door gunner; interacting with his comrades; and much more.

“It’s an overview of Skip’s journey in Vietnam,” said Dilger, a 2021 Eisenhower High School graduate who grew up in Macomb Township and currently lives in Georgia while attending SCAD. “I wanted to show the footage that has never been seen before to a wider audience.”

Not only does the film chronicle Liberty’s time during the Vietnam conflict, Dilger also captured moments of Liberty watching his home movies from more than 50 years ago.

“You’ll see his reaction watching it for the first time and what Vietnam was like,” Dilger said. “It’s really rare to see this much footage. It’s all in color and shot in Kodachrome.”

“Skip Liberty, Shooting in Vietnam” also illustrates the love story between Liberty and his fiancée, Judi, who became his wife in 1970. The couple have three children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

To keep Judi close to his heart while an ocean separated them, Liberty wrote “JUDI” in capital letters on his helmet, a memento he still has. According to Dilger, some of the footage depicts Liberty on leave with Judi in Hawaii on New Year’s Eve 1969.

“I’m really happy with it,” Dilger said. “It’s my first feature film. I learned a lot.”

Knowing he would be drafted, Liberty instead enlisted in the military in 1968.

“I wanted to join the Army to get an education,” he said.

During his stint, Liberty periodically sent the footage from his Super 8 camera home to the U.S. Everything, however, was boxed up and forgotten about; therefore, Liberty never viewed it. Liberty now lives in Grayling and won’t be able to attend the viewing Sunday. But he saw the documentary along with Judi at the 2023 Grand Rapids Film Fest in October, where Dilger won the best student feature award. The film also earned the 2023 Honor Award at the Veterans Film Festival in San Francisco.

“I think he did an excellent job. I think he did a fine job,” Liberty said. “Some of it I didn’t remember, and some other stuff came back in my mind.”

When he’s not in school, Dilger is a history buff who participates in war reenactments and works as an amateur archivist. He’s featured as a military veteran in flashbacks in “Detroit: The City of Hot Rods & Muscle Cars.”

For more information on the Michigan Military Technical & Historical Society, visit or call (586) 872-2581. Admission to see the film is a donation to the museum.