WATCH: WWII Veteran Reunites with Italian Siblings He Saved as Children

For many years, Martin Adler held onto a black and white photograph of himself as a young American soldier next to three Italian children he has been credited with saving during the Nazis’ retreat in 1944.

The 97-year-old veteran reconnected with the siblings in person for the first time since the war on Monday, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Adler greeted Bruno, Mafalda, and Giuliana Naldi during the reunion at Bologna’s airport following his journey from Boca Raton, Florida. And just like when he was a young soldier in their village, Monterenzio, Italy, he handed out bars of American chocolate to those present.

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The first time he and the children met in 1944, three faces looked out of a large basket where their mother had hidden them when soldiers approached. Adler believed the home was vacant, so he pointed his machine gun at the basket when he heard a noise because he thought a German soldier was hiding there.

“The mother, Mamma, came out and stood right in front of my gun to stop me (from) shooting,” he recalled, adding, “She put her stomach right against my gun, yelling, ‘Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!’ pounding my chest.”

Martin Adler, who is 97, travelled to Bologna in northern Italy to meet Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana Naldi, who are now…

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“That was a real hero, the mother, not me,” Adler said of her actions.

To this day, he trembles when recalling he was just seconds away from firing on the basket and also suffers nightmares due to the war, according to his daughter, Rachelle Donley.

Afterward, his company remained in the village for a time and he often went by to play with the children.

Donley decided amid the coronavirus pandemic to use social media to find the children in the picture and began with veterans’ groups in North America.

The photo was later seen by Italian journalist Matteo Incerti who tracked down Adler’s regiment and where it was stationed from a detail in a separate photo. It was then published in a local newspaper which led to the discovery of the children’s identities, who had also become grandparents.

“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,” Donley explained.

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