Martin Adler still has nightmares about his experience in World War II. But there are happy memories, too, like that day in October 1944 when he posed for a photo with three Italian children he'd nearly killed. Adler, then a 20-year-old private, had been searching the village of Monterenzio for Nazi soldiers when he heard a noise emerge from a covered basket. He was about to fire when a woman—"a real hero"—ran toward him, he tells the AP. "She put her stomach right against my gun, yelling, 'Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!' pounding my chest." She was shouting the word for "children" in Italian. As the New York Times reports, two girls and a boy, ages 3 to 6, "popped out of what turned out to be a cradle." Adler would later visit the children, bringing gifts of chocolate, before moving on from the area. Seventy-seven years later, he did it all over again.
In November, Adler's daughter shared the photo online. It found its way to Italian journalist Matteo Incerti, who figured out where Adler's regiment had been stationed. The Naldi children were found soon after. After a virtual meeting in December, Adler, 97, met Bruno, 83, Mafalda, 82, and Giuliana, 80, in person at Bologna's airport Monday for the first time since the war. "My heart is bursting," said the smiling Florida resident, who again handed out chocolate. Giuliana recalled eating "so much" of Adler's chocolate as a child, per the AP. She also recalled seeing Adler and another soldier laughing at their discovery of the siblings. Her granddaughter said it was "very emotional ... knowing that Martin could have shot and that none of my family would exist." The siblings' descendants include six children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. (Read more uplifting news stories.)