I am Rafael Anton

living with ALS


Surviving hardship, abuse, setbacks, crisis, and life-threatening events, we never could have imagined that he would be diagnosed with ALS after outliving his own mother, brother, friends, and beloved wife.

Written by: Shari J Anton and Kathy A Anton-Galietti, Daughters
We now are the voice for our father. Recently diagnosed with ALS, age 80, who lost his wife, our mom, of 54 years in 2017 to Parkinson’s.

He has worked with his bare hands his entire life. As a young boy following the end of WWII in Germany, he was apprenticed to be a baker. He worked as a farmer, rodeo wrangler, 20-year Navy Veteran, builder, trade instructor, “fixer” of anything, businessman, and helper.

His survival as a WWII refugee, alongside his mother and sister, led him from his birthplace in Ukraine, escaping the battles between the Germans and Russians. Eventually finding shelter in a Catholic church in Austria, until returning to Germany.

As a refugee, my father and family were farmers, “dirt poor,” until reunited with his father who was an evil and abusive man. They immigrated to the U.S. when he was 15, sponsored by a German farmer in Washington state, bullied, and horrifically abused by his father who beat his mother regularly.

He dropped out of Jr. High School due to the bullying, finding interests, jobs, and friends. He joined the Navy at 17 and could not speak English, but when he was approached by an officer looking for a baker on board the Navy ship, a fellow soldier stated, “yeah Anton can bake.” My father baked the cake for the officers aboard the U.S.S. Dixie.

Soon after his experience landed him assigned to a “top secret” mission aboard a submarine on the west coast. He still refuses to tell us what he did, but we gather his German and Russian language skills and background had something to do with it.

I have never known a greater American Patriot than my father. With help from my mother, he was naturalized and continued his service in the naval reserves for 18 years. We remember the 2-week cruises that took him to San Diego. Seeing him off in his blues, with his green sea bag and amazing smile. The best part was when we got to pick him up at the airport knowing he always brought us small gifts we dug from his seabag.

There were two incidents where he came as close to death as possible on the ship. Once he was electrocuted by the massive ovens, and an explosion sent metal flying while hitting him in one eye. He always survived.

My father was the hardest-working man I have ever known. So much so that he would work 2 to 3 jobs so that we could have that pool table, or that small camper, and later a small swimming pool. He took us to swim at a community pool, but it was only for the residents. He was so mad that his 2 girls could not swim he vowed to put our own pool in. He laughed with pride when we jumped into 50-degree water as he began filling the pool with a hose.

His father was deported leaving him the man of the family. While raising his own family, he worked, protected, and stepped up to help his mother, manage his brother, and guide is sister.

He loved to hunt, fish, cut wood each winter, frame houses, build, fix, and make things “happen.” A wheeler and dealer. He could barter, sell, buy, and find anything needed. He was a saver and only dealt with cash. Due to his own life experiences, he never wanted to owe anyone, or not have food in our home. He loved Christmas so he could give my mom cash to spend and buy her department store jewelry he could pick out.

There wasn’t a person he did not know or help. Helping his family was always his priority. We did not have a lot but he made sure we had what we needed. When he came home with a Vega with racing tires to give me as my first car, my mother was furious! He just liked the fact that he could do it, despite the fact that he never bought anything that did not look good on the outside but never worked underneath. Fixing was a lifelong process. He hated it, but always figured it out.

Surviving hardship, abuse, setbacks, crisis, and life-threatening events, we never could have imagined that he would be diagnosed with ALS after outliving his own mother, brother, friends, and beloved wife. He could not have become the man he is without her love, support, patience, and sense of humor. She was the only one who could explain my father’s German cultural way of saying, doing, thinking, and responding. He has a great sense of humor, and loves a good story, but never did get our jokes or teasing until mom told him it was a joke.

Our regret is not tape-recording him sharing his life stories. ALS has taken his voice, he can not spell or write, but he can read anything, but that too is becoming physically challenging. What we know, uncovered, and still researching are not only difficult to fathom, and historical, but his greatest accomplishment in life is his family and legacy.

Dying at the hands of this tragic disease is cruel and unfair to everyone afflicted, but ALS won’t take our father, and grandfather, God will. He has always said, “We all gotta die someday, kid.” Sadly though, this time it is he and the how is the hardest part for him to “fix” or overcome. My sister told him to lean on God, and I added that whatever ALS throws at him, his need to fix things or get the best deal continues on, even when he reunites with his family and our mother.

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