US soldier reunites with Italian children he almost shot during second world war

December 27, 2020
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A 96-year-old retired American soldier has been reunited with three children he almost accidentally shot in 1944 while liberating an Italian mountain village from the Nazis.

Martin Adler fought along the Gothic Line, and in October 1944 was among the US troops liberating the area surrounding Monterenzio, a village in the Apennines mountains close to Bologna.

He entered a cottage in Monterenzio with a fellow soldier called John Bronsky, thinking it was empty. When they heard a noise coming from a large wicker basket, they thought German soldiers might be hiding inside and so prepared to shoot. At that moment, a panicked mother entered the room shouting: “Don’t shoot … children, children!” Three siblings, aged between three and six, then jumped out of the basket.

Relieved, Adler asked if he could have a photo taken with the children – Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana – using a camera he had with him. Their mother agreed, but on condition she could dress them in their best clothes.

Seventy-six years later, and now living in Florida, Adler asked his daughter, Rachelle, to try to track down the siblings to see if any were still alive. On 12 December, she posted a message alongside the original photo on a Facebook page for veteran soldiers from the US and Canada who had been stationed in Italy.

The message was seen by Matteo Incerti, an author and journalist from the Emilia-Romagna region who has written a book about the second world war.

Incerti shared the photo on his own Facebook page before locating the area where Adler’s 339thth Regiment of the US 85th Division was based. He contacted a local newspaper, which published the photo, and the story was also carried by the TV channel TG1 and the national press.

As the story was being shared in Italy, Rachelle wrote on her Facebook page: “My dad Martin Adler is being featured in an article in Italy. We are hoping for a holiday miracle to reunite him with these three children he could have mistakenly killed. Thank God he and Bronsky kept their cool.”

On 13 December – the day many Italians mark the feast day of Santa Lucia, or “the festival of light” – Incerti received a message from the care worker of a friend of Bruno.

The care worker said she had met Bruno in a park and he had told her he recognised himself from the photo in the newspaper and wanted to contact the journalist but did not know how to. “Straightaway she found me on Facebook and wrote me a message,” Incerti said.

Mafalda also recognised herself in the photo.

Incerti swiftly set up a video call between Adler and the three siblings, now aged between 79 and 83, which took place on Monday.

The first thing Adler said to them was: “Would you like some chocolate?”

“They remembered playing in the basket, Americans being in the house and him giving them sweets and chocolate,” Incerti said.

In an emotional reunion, Adler said he would like to live until he’s 100 and come to Italy to meet Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana when the coronavirus pandemic is over.

“Everyone is calling it a Christmas miracle,” said Incerti. “Adler said this is the nicest thing that has ever happened to him. After the war he suffered from PTSD. He received a bronze medal for saving wounded people, but he also watched a lot of people die.”

The siblings live in Castel San Pietro, where they moved in 1953.

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