WOODSTOCK, N.Y.–A blind veteran from Woodstock has ambitious plans for his new full-length feature film and original theme song that grew out of it.
During the month of November, Marty Klein was on a mission to get radio stations across the nation to play his “Veterans’ Anthem” and present his 54-minute documentary, “Why Can’t We Serve,” which he wrote, produced and directed, to a wide audience. He intends to keep the momentum going and shine the spotlight on helping disabled veterans.
The song, recorded at Natural Studios in Saugerties, features Klein on lead vocals. He is backed by famous musicians like John Sebastian on harmonica; folk singer Amy Fradon on backup vocals; Eric Parker on percussion; Jim Barbaro on guitar; and Cathie Malach on keyboard. Klein said the folksy anthem is intentionally upbeat to instill hope among America’s veterans.
Klein, who lost his sight to a rare eye disease called bilateral anterior uveitis while serving in the U.S. Air Force in the late 1960s, said the anthem was inspired by his film “Why Can’t We Serve,” which draws attention to high veteran suicide rates. According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 veterans take their lives each day, amounting to about 8,000 deaths annually.
Klein said he could have been another statistic, particularly after his diagnosis, which included secondary glaucoma and minimal but progressive cataracts.
“Before that, I had 20-20 vision,” said the 70-year-old author, disability activist and yoga enthusiast, who was honorably discharged in 1970. “I had no idea that it would be the beginning of a total loss of vision.”
To make the film, Klein enlisted the talents of Hudson Valley photographer and videographer Mike Nelson as his cinematographer as well as other local experts and artists. He began working on the project in 2016 and raised funds to get it off the ground. The Kingston Veterans Association helped raise more than $8,000 for the project, according to Klein.
The movie, shot at various locations across the country, including California, North Carolina and New York, features interviews with veterans, policymakers and counselors. Among those interviewed are Bill Forte, the chairman of the Kingston Veterans Association, and Klein, who tells his story.
In 1967, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the Air Force, mainly to appease his patriotic father. After basic training, he went to weather school in Champagne, Illinois, fulfilling a childhood dream of being a meteorologist.
He was about to be sent to Vietnam when he was stricken with the disease.
“I had my own Vietnam,” he said. “Losing my vision was no picnic. I went through seven years of hell, being totally lost and had to recreate who I was.”
In the years that followed, Klein moved around the country before landing in Woodstock, where he would become a longtime counselor at Family of Woodstock’s crisis intervention center. He has also authored three books, two screenplays and created a CD program called “Beginning Yoga for the Blind and Visually Impaired.” He also is the founder of a holistic learning center in Tallahassee, Florida, which operated for eight years.
Klein said his goals for the film and song are not for personal gain, but to improve the lives of wounded military personnel and disabled veterans.
“My premise was that when these soldiers go to combat and come back wounded, there is no place for them in the military, so I decided to expose this with this film,” he said. “They get discharged and are given a disability check and that’s that.
“Many want to keep serving, but now, they’re floundering and don’t know what to do. The military unintentionally is pushing away a large number of people who would make it stronger and more diverse.”
Klein hopes that in some small way, the film will be a catalyst for change, but he said it will likely be an uphill battle.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all businesses and corporations hire people with disabilities,” he said. “This applies to most government agencies as well. The only exception is the United States military.”
Right now, Klein is pushing to get his song played at as many radio stations as he can and hoping to get his documentary screened at prominent venues, including next year’s GI Film Festival.
For the link to the film, please go to whycantweserve.com.
To listen to the song, A Veteran’s Anthem, download it here.