On an innocent Sunday outing to the church picnic area called Cedar Lake, Nazih reveals that he is being picked on by the neighborhood bully, Binki Smalls. Nazih's father, who was famous in his own right for being the town 'Strong Man' in his village in Lebanon, takes it upon himself to teach his son not only how to rout his foe, but how to be a true man in a treacherous and unforgiving world.
The Bannas battled life in the streets, the classroom, and on the gridiron at Youngstown State University in order to improve their lot. The Banna brothers are the last bastions and shining examples of real men who lived life to the fullest and feared no one. Barroom brawls, backyard football, boxing, women, car bombings, mob violence, Youngstown State Football (YSU) team camp, and spring break to Florida were the norm for this rambunctious and wild trio. Ricky, the youngest of four siblings, sums up their cockiness with what became their unofficial motto: "We're Hell When We're Well and We're Never Sick."
So starts a story of action, adventure, and romance by a Dahlgren naval officer, Lt. Thomas D. Banna, who has just recently published a book about his Lebanese-American family and their experiences growing up on the rough streets of Youngstown, Ohio.
Entitled Ford Avenue Legends for the street on which they lived, the book is based on actual events in Youngstown between 1959-1976 and highlights Banna's family's exciting, adventurous, and rich cultural history, according to its author. For instance, the Banna Brothers - Lt. Banna's father and two uncles - were close friends or acquaintances with a veritable who's who of sports and entertainment celebrities over the years, including YSU head coach Dwight 'Dike' Beede, perhaps best remembered as the father of the penalty flag; former Notre Dame Football coach and ESPN commentator Robert E. "Bob" Davie, Jr.; football greats Bob Dove, Ron Jaworski, Joe Namath, Roger Staubach, and Cliff Stoudt; actors Sean Connery, Jimmy Cumming (the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger), Gary Friedkin, Ed O' Neill (who play Al Bundy on Married With Children); and Alex Thomas Hayek aka the World's Strongest Man.
"The book is action packed, adventurous, and showcases three love stories against the backdrop of Youngstown's most glorious years," Banna said. "At the book's core are values like devotion and sacrifice, the ultimate form of true love. In our modern day there are those who are blind to this truth, have forgotten, or never knew that love is not an emotion, love is a verb, love is in action. Hopefully, this story will serve as a quiet reminder so that eyes will open, and all will remember."
The inspiration for the book came one evening when Banna was returning from a movie with his cousin Ricky Banna.
"We were thoroughly disappointed in a movie we had just seen at the theatre," Banna said. "We discussed how Hollywood no longer produces movies with good story lines, well developed characters, or exciting stories. My cousin suggested that a movie about our family, growing up in the Youngstown area, would be a hit since we had such an interesting family background."
"For many years, we had listened to many strangers and friends of our family tell us the craziest and most exciting stories about our aunts and uncles," Banna continued. "Additionally, when I talk with people who have never been to Youngstown and I inform them about the town's rich history, they often look at me in disbelief. So, at that point I decided that there were too many great stories, about our town and my family, to potentially lose them to the ages."
One story in the book involves NFL greats Ron Jaworski, whom Banna's dad and uncle accompanied to Florida on spring break in 1973 and New York Jets quarterback, Joe Namath. Jaworski, who had only just been drafted to play for the Los Angeles Rams, took the opportunity to introduce Banna's father to Namath, an all-pro who had led the New York Jets to victory in Super Bowl III four year before.
"Upon meeting Joe Namath, my dad punched him in the stomach when they were in Joe Namath's bar called the Bachelor's III in Fort Lauderdale," Banna said. "The gist of the story is that my dad just felt like giving Joe Namath a 'gut check' for no particular reason at all. Joe Namath's body guard tried to step in and restrain my dad, but Joe Namath told the bodyguard to back off and basically, just smiled and said that he should have expected such a thing from a guy from Youngstown, Ohio."
Born in Youngstown, Banna grew up in Canfield, Ohio, about ten miles from Youngstown. He joined the Navy in 2006 and began writing the book soon thereafter while on a midshipmen exchange cruise with the Turkish Navy in the Aegean Sea. He continued his work through two other deployments to the Persian Gulf on the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
"I wrote in my spare time, often burning the midnight oil well into the next day after normal working hours on ship," Banna said. "I used every free moment I had and I carried a notebook on me at all times. Most of the writing took place in the wardroom (chow hall on ship) generally from 11 p.m. at night to 2 or 3 a.m."
Banna spent a total of eight months and one week writing while on board ship and another five years when he returned home. He did it all by hand using 8x10 notebooks, which took a year to type and another year to edit, self publish and oversee the manufacturing process.
After seven years of conducting research, writing, and then publishing, the book Banna describes as an epic novel is finally finished. It is classified as historical fiction, because despite checking all the facts, Banna said he was unable to verify everything as being true. In addition to the usual research, he also conducted more than 20 interviews. He decided to print it himself, because he did not have time to coordinate it with an agent and a publisher.
"Also, I simply could not stand to wait any longer," Banna said, "I wanted people to finally read an exciting novel about (Youngstown) and I didn't want anyone to change what I had written because the story involves my relatives and extended family, so I decided that it was time to take the book to print myself."
As for his family's reaction to their newfound celebrity status, Banna said, "I am not sure they believed that I would actually finish the book, but they were happy when it was finally completed."
Ford Avenue Legends is available locally at Smryna restaurant in Fredericksburg, Va. for $24.99 and at approximately 22 local restaurants and businesses in Youngstown, which received a total of 400 copies. Banna credited these businesses for the project's success by allowing him to sell the book from their establishments.
In addition, an e-book version may be purchased online for $9.99 at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and Lulu.com. The book is 632 pages, with eight pages of pictures.
Half of the profits from sales will be donated to a shipmate, Navy Lt. Brad Snyder, an explosive ordnance officer who was blinded in Afghanistan in September 2011, Banna said.
With his first book now successfully concluded, Banna said he is willing to try writing another book if time permits.
"If I had time, I would like to write another book," Banna said, "But, the latest book took up so much of my time, I would really have to feel strongly about the subject matter to be able to dedicate as much time as I did to Ford Avenue Legends."
For more information, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hh6Feebx3Z8 or www.tonybanna.webs.com.