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A Glimmer of Light for Veteran Depression

by Andrea Hillman

Mitchell County

Andrea Hillman


“I’ve seen ‘impossible’ happen so many times, it’s just common to me,” Robert Bailey, Jr. said as he showed me his most prized work: The Freedom Lantern. Robert’s dream is to see the U.S. government gift one of these meticulously crafted pieces to every U.S. veteran. The piece is meant to serve as a “thank you” for their service from a grateful nation and as a physical reminder that “someone cares.”

“You know, that’s why we work with these veterans. We really like veterans, and I got to watching this veteran suicide business. It’s disturbing. I’ve been there, and I’ve seen these folks. I dealt with one of them pretty close one time,” Robert shared….

Robert Balley owner Buck Stove

Robert Bailey

This particular veteran and his sister visited the showroom at the Buck Stove manufacturing plant in Spruce Pine, NC. It didn’t take Robert long to realize the man had some struggles. He would only nod or grunt as a response to any communication and his sister acted as an intermediary between them. Robert soon noticed the man was attracted to a small, laser-cut flag.

After asking a few questions, Robert came to understand the gentleman and his sister were both veterans and the brother had recently attempted suicide. Robert picked up the small, metal flag and asked him, “Do you know what this is?” “Yes sir, I know what this is,” the brother responded, to Robert’s surprise. They were the first words he spoke since entering the showroom.

“You know, I’d really like for you to have this thing and take it home with you, and just know that somebody cares and we really appreciate your service,” Robert said. “And I’m telling you, he looked at me just as straight as he could, face to face, and started talking. He talked for about 45 minutes, and we talked about all kinds of things. The three of us just had a really good conversation.” Eventually, they said goodbye and Robert sent them away with the gift of a flag and a Freedom Lantern. “That lantern means we care,” Robert told them.

Buck Stove Freedom Lantern

Freedom Lantern

Two weeks later Robert received a letter from the sister: Everything had changed for the better since their meeting. Robert had made a difference in the life of a fellow veteran.

You may never have heard of Robert Bailey Jr. and left to him, he would keep it that way. As the youngest child of Robert Sr. and Dorothy Bailey, it is easy to understand where his devotion first developed. Robert Bailey Sr. gave his life in service to America during World War II, three months before Robert Jr. was born, and his body remains in France. Dorothy devoted the rest of her life to their children. Raising them in a God-honoring home was primary, and the church doors hardly opened without her little ones found in the pews. Robert gave his heart to Christ at a church revival when he was 9 years old.

Robert Jr. nobly served our country as a young medic in Vietnam. Like so many other soldiers who survived that terrible time, the atrocities Robert witnessed could not be unseen. Unknowingly suffering from PTSD, his life took a dark turn and he struggled with a destructive depression for several years.

Sustained by the faithful love of his family, including “a very good girl” who became his bride, Robert made it through to a day that changed everything. Robert’s wife talked him into taking her to a Billy Graham film and afterward he rededicated his life to the Lord. “From that time on, it just changed. When I realized what kind of mess I was causing…I finally got my head on straight…and man has it been good ever since!” he said, smiling.

Robert has witnessed many “impossible” events happen in his life since that day. Four years after he and Alvin Barrier opened Minpro Supply, a humble, country store in Spruce Pine, NC, Mr. Carol Buckner walked into their business. After a couple of visits, Carol cut a deal with Robert and Alvin to sell an item he had recently developed, the Buck Stove. The rest is history. Today, these beautifully crafted stoves provide heat to over one million homes.

The impossibilities do not end there, however: Gloria Houston, the author of “The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree,” asked Robert if his company could produce several lanterns made in the likeness of the one illustrated on her book cover. Robert agreed and the New Buck corporation soon began a venture in lantern manufacturing. The lanterns evolved into personalized lanterns for special occasions, and eventually The Freedom Lantern.

This led Robert to the ultimate expression of his life’s work: The development of the Freedom Lantern Project. His goal is to see a Freedom Lantern in the hands of every U.S. veteran as a gift from a grateful nation to honor their service. Many have purchased these lanterns and Robert has given many as a gift to veterans he has met. Many people would certainly support this endeavor on a funding platform, but Robert strongly believes our government is the appropriate entity to back this project. He scoffs at the word “impossible.”

Buck Stove Veteran memorial

Memorial to veterans located at Buck Stove Company in Mitchell County


Unfortunately, though the U.S. government is no stranger to wasting billions of tax-payer dollars on underwriting private corporations such as Solyndra and Tonopah Solar Energy, elected officials from both sides of the aisle have refused to support The Freedom Lantern Project. Robert has written letters to presidents and various government officials to no avail.

Don’t our servicemembers deserve an heirloom-quality lantern that says, “Thank you?” I believe so and I trust you do too, so our call to action is this: Reach out to every senator, representative, star, and influencer possible. It will only cost a few moments of your time to send letters, tweets, make phone calls, and social media posts. Tell them to back Robert Bailey Jr. and The Freedom Lantern Project. “Impossible” is a target to destroy.


Andrea Hillman is a contributing writer, journalist, and online editor for Blue Ridge Christian News, as well as creator and news aggregator for The Christian Persecution Report. She enjoys a wide variety of artistic endeavors, world travel, and recently discovered she has a green thumb. You can read more of her work at Blue Ridge Christian News online. Please reach out to her with questions and comments at or on LinkedIn.


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