Former military Mandan bar owner receives Black Lion statue from his disbanded unit

Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 5:49 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - The First Battalion of the 28th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the “Black Lions,” has a rich military history dating back to World War One.

The Black Lions Bar in Mandan gives you a taste of that history right here in North Dakota.

Last week, the bar became the owner of a symbol representing lifetimes of bravery and unity.

Black Lions is a beer and wine parlor in downtown Mandan. Owner Garrett Hooker says he got the name from his time in the military serving in the Black Lions Unit. Four years after opening, he’s thriving and celebrating receiving a very special gift—the black lion statue from his former unit.

The bar is peppered with patrons. The walls are marked with memorabilia. And standing proud in the center-- a black lion statue with a remarkable past, traveling all the way from Georgia.

”A lot of these guys came up for this. So, it means the world to us to be able to house it and look after it and keep that history alive,” said Hooker.

Former and current members of the Black Lions military unit journeyed up to Mandan to get a look at the statue that has meant so much for so long.

”I walked past it every day. So little did little Rob know, it would be sitting in his bar someday,” said former Black Lion unit member and current Black Lions employee Robert Puttre.

”This lion sat in front of our battalion. So, anytime any of us had to go up to the battalion, or anything like that to go get yelled at by the sergeant major or something, you had to walk by him,” said Hooker.

This lion that has accompanied the unit through deployments now sits nestled in the Black Lions bar. But when the unit recently disbanded, the question was: What would become of this revered symbol?

Current members had lots of options but chose Garrett Hooker’s bar to be its new home.

”When it came pulling in yesterday, on the back of a trailer-- the first time I saw it since it’s been almost ten years now-- yes, it brought back a lot of memories,” said Hooker. ”A lot of good memories. A lot of good memories. Maybe at the time, they weren’t the best, but...” Hooker laughed.

Garrett’s regulars tracked its progress on social media, until the day the lion arrived. The name of the bar is how Rob found Garrett, coworkers once more at the Black Lions bar, and former members of the Black Lions unit. And now, it’s the statue that’s bringing together unit members, old and new, in Mandan.

”If we wouldn’t have had this, I don’t know, with the unit shutting down, where this stuff would’ve went. Where this history would’ve went. So, it’s amazing. We got that history and just the people that come with it, the friends that I haven’t seen in a decade,” said Hooker.

The unit may be disbanded but the lion lives on highlighting the power of camaraderie and the lasting bond forged through service. Former Black Lions unit members Your News Leader spoke with said they’re going to try to make an annual trip back to Mandan to visit the lion and Garrett.