On Monday, August 23rd, WWII US veteran reunites with Italians he saved as children. The 97-year-old WWII veteran, Martin Adler met with the three Italian siblings in person for the first time since the war.
After a 20-hour journey from Boca Raton, Florida, Adler held out his hand to grasp those of Bruno, Mafalda, and Giuliana Naldi for the joyful reunion at Bologna’s airport. After, just as he did as a World War II soldier in the village of Monterenzio, he handed them bars of American chocolate.
It was a happy ending to a journey that could have easily been a tragedy.
The first time the soldier and the children met each other, in 1944, the three peeked out of a giant wicker basket where their mother had hidden them from approaching soldiers. Adler thought the house was empty, so he mounted his machine gun on the basket when he heard a sound, thinking a German soldier was lurking inside.
“The mother, Mamma, came out and stood right in front of my gun to stop me (from) shooting,” Adler recalled. “She put her stomach right against my gun, yelling, ‘Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!’ pounding my chest,” Adler remembered.
“That was a real hero, the mother, not me. The mother was a real hero. Can you imagine you standing yourself in front of a gun and screaming, ‘Children! No!'” he said.
Adler still quivers when he remembers how he was only seconds away from opening fire on the basket. According to his daughter, Rachelle Donley, he still suffers nightmares from the war, even after all these years.
The children were between the ages of 3 to 6 when they met, and the encounter remains as a happy memory. His company stayed in the village for a while, and he would come by and play with them.
The youngest, Giuliana Naldi, is the only one of the three who remembers the event. She remembers climbing out of the basket and noticing Adler and another U.S. soldier, who has since died.
“They were laughing… They were happy they didn’t shoot.” – Giuliana Naldi, now 80, remembers.
Naldi didn’t quite comprehend the close call.
“We weren’t afraid for anything,” she said.
She also recalls the soldier’s chocolate, which came in a blue-and-white wrapper.
“We ate so much of that chocolate,” she exclaimed.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Rachelle Donley decided to use social media to track down the children he once saved. He started with veterans’ groups in North America.
Adler cherished a black-and-white photo of himself as a young American soldier with the three impeccably dressed Italian children taken after the incident. He used the image in hopes of finding those he saved in the war.
Eventually, an Italian journalist Matteo Incerti who had written books on World War II, came across the photo. Incerti was able to track down Adler’s company and location from a small detail in another photograph. A local newspaper then published the image. This lead to the discovery of the identities of the three children, who by then were old folks themselves.
“I am so happy and so proud of him. Because things could have been so different in just a second because he hesitated, there have been generations of people,” Rachelle Donley said.
During his time in Italy, Adler plans to spend some time in the village where he was stationed. He will then travel to Florence, Naples, and Rome, where he hopes to meet Pope Francis.
“My dad really wants to meet the pope… He wants to share his message of peace and love. My dad is all about peace.”
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