During World War II, an American soldier came within a sliver of taking the lives of three innocent children by mistake. Nearly eight decades later, a black-and-white photograph he had long cherished led to an emotional reunion that had been 77 years in the making.
Private First Class Martin Adler was an American Jew of Hungarian descent. He grew up in the Bronx, and when he turned 20, he went to Italy to fight the Nazis as part of the 85th Infantry Division. One day in 1944, he was stationed in the Apennine Mountains, looking for Nazis, when something caught his attention.
Adler recalled that he saw a large wicker basket in front of him, covered with a pile of blankets that was moving and making noise. He and his fellow soldier, John Bronsky, suspected the noise was coming from German soldiers in hiding, so they sprang into action.
Former WWII veteran Martin Adler | Source: YouTube.com/WPRI
Something Stopped Him from Shooting
“I had my good old Thompson submachine gun,” said Adler, noting that its safety was turned off. He was about to pull the trigger when he saw a woman running toward him. “Mama came out screaming, ‘Bambini, bambini,” recounted Adler, using the Italian word for kids.
Emotions ran high as the Naldi siblings, Bruno, 83, Giuliana, 82, and Mafalda, 79, grandparents and great-grandparents themselves, warmly welcomed Adler.
Rachelle Adler Donley | Source: YouTube.com/CBS Mornings
The Hero Mom
Soon afterward, the U.S. soldier said the woman fearlessly stood in front of him so he wouldn’t shoot her children. Adler, who said he was utterly oblivious to the fact that the closed basket was hiding little ones and not Nazis, cried his heart out because he had never meant to hurt the kids.
After heaving a sigh of relief, Adler embraced the children, barely three to six years old at the time. Before leaving, he asked their mother if he could have a picture with them as a lovely keepsake from his time in Italy. After her approval, the young soldier posed for a lovely photo with the cheerful kids.
Treasuring The Photo
Adler stayed in the village of Monterenzio for a while, and during that time, he would often drop by and play with the three siblings. He also handed them American chocolate bars, which they loved, in addition to his company. Even after returning to the U.S., the G.I. said he never forgot about the kids. Adler’s daughter, Rachelle Adler Donley revealed:
“For seventy-seven years, Martin has cherished that photo and always wondered about them.”
Finding the Kids
Several years passed, but the memory of that day remained fresh in Adler’s mind and heart. He greatly treasured the black-and-white photograph where he had posed as a young soldier with three beautiful Italian children whose lives he had nearly cut short.
Knowing how much the incident had impacted her father and his affection for the kids, Donley decided to do something. During the coronavirus lockdown, she turned to social media to trace the Italian siblings in the old photo, starting with WWII veterans’ groups.
An Emotional Hug
To her delight, the image was seen by an Italian author, Matteo Incerti, who had penned many books on the Second World War. The local historian used his sources to amplify the appeal, and eventually, the three siblings were successfully found.
After a video reunion in December 2020, Adler embarked on a 20-hour journey with his wife, Elaine, and his daughter in August 2021. At the Bologna airport, the 97-year-old Florida veteran finally hugged the siblings whose lives he was credited with saving.
A Long Time Coming
Emotions ran high as the Naldi siblings, Bruno, 83, Giuliana, 82, and Mafalda, 79, grandparents and great-grandparents themselves, warmly welcomed Adler. The former U.S. soldier did not come empty-handed and gave the Naldis their favorite American chocolate bars, just like the ones he gave them 77 years ago.
Giuliana, the youngest of the three siblings, recalled coming out of the basket and peeking at Adler. She also had a vivid recollection of the chocolate Adler handed her. “We ate so much of that chocolate,” she recollected with a laugh.
A Dream Come True
Incerti, who helped Donley organize her dad’s trip to Italy, noted that Adler was thrilled to reunite with the Naldis. The Italian writer said he included Adler and Naldi siblings’ heartwarming story in his book, “The Children of Soldier Martin.” Regarding the tear-jerking reunion, Incerti stated:
“Now, after I told the story of Martin in my book and his dream was to meet the kids, and today it became true.”
Donley said her father’s face lit up when he saw the siblings. “It means everything to him,” she added. When asked what made him hesitate from pulling the trigger 77 years ago, Adler answered, “God looked down on me, and God looked down on Italia.”
Adler’s profoundly heart-melting reunion with the Italian siblings, which took almost eight decades to come to fruition, shows that sometimes, happy endings can come out of seemingly tragic beginnings.