Monday was the first day since World War II that the veteran of 97 years met his three siblings, now octogenarians.
After a 20-hour flight from Boca Raton to Florida, Adler reached out to grab the hands of Bruno, Mafalda, and Giuliana Naldi in order for them to be reunited at Bologna's Airport. He then handed out American chocolate bars, much like he did when he was a soldier in Monterenzio at the age of 20.
Adler said, "Look at my smile!" about the long-awaited reunion in person. This was possible thanks to the reach of social media.
It was a happy end to a tragic story.
In 1944, when soldiers came to visit, Adler and the children first saw each other. The three children peeked through a large wicker basket that their mother had kept in the basket as soldiers approached. Adler thought the house was empty so he placed his machine gun on it when he heard the sound. He believed that a German soldier was hiding in the basket.
Adler recalls that Mamma, the mother, came out and stood in front of my gun to prevent me from shooting. "She put her stomach against my gun and yelled, 'Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!' pounding my chest,'' Adler recalled.
"The mother was the real hero. Not me. The mother was a true hero. Imagine yourself standing in front of a gun screaming "Children!" He said, "No!"
Adler still feels numb when he recalls how he was just seconds from firing on the basket. Rachelle Donley, his daughter, stated that even after all these years, Adler still has nightmares about the war.
They were all between 3 and 6 years old when they first met. His company remained in the village for a while, and he would stop by to play with them.
Giuliana Naldi is the youngest of the three and has no recollection. She remembers seeing Adler and another U.S. soldier as she climbed out of the basket.
Naldi, now aged 80, recalls, "They were laughing." "They were happy that they didn't shoot."
She said, "We weren’t afraid for nothing."
She also recalls the soldier's chocolate in a blue-and white wrapper.
She laughed, "We ate so many of that chocolate."
Donley made the decision during the COVID-19 lockdown that social media would be used to locate the children from the black-and-white photograph. He started with veterans' groups in North America.
The photo was eventually spotted by Matteo Incerti, an Italian journalist who had previously written books about World War II. From a detail in another photo, he was able to locate Adler's regiment. The smiling photo was published in a local newspaper. This led to the identification of the children who were now grandparents.
They reunited via video in December and waited for the end of pandemic travel restrictions to allow them to make the trans-Atlantic journey possible.
"I am so happy for him. Because it was possible for things to have been very different in a split second. Donley stated that he hesitated because there were generations of people."
Giuliana Naldi’s granddaughter Roberta Fontana (30 years old) is a great example of serendipity. Roberta Fontana is one of six grandchildren, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren whose ancestors were the three children in the wicker basket.
Fontana stated, "Knowing Martin could have shot is very significant." It is very moving.
Adler will spend time in Italy during his stay. He will then travel on to Florence, Naples, and Rome where he hopes to meet Pope Francis.
Donley stated, "My dad really wants the pope to meet him." He wants to spread his message of love and peace. My dad is all for peace."