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After 8 Decades, WWII Vet Is Reunited With The Italian Children He Saved

NOEL KING, HOST:

All right, we have an update now on a story that first ran on MORNING EDITION back in December.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

World War II veteran Martin Adler and his daughter Rachelle Donley had been searching for three Italians that Martin hadn't seen in nearly 80 years.

KING: When we talked to Martin last year, he told us that he saw those Italians as he was going house to house with other U.S. soldiers trying to get German troops out of Italy at the end of the war.

MARTINEZ: Inside one home, he heard rustling from a large basket, the kind that stores wine bottles. He yelled at the basket, ready to fight German soldiers he thought would be hiding inside.

MARTIN ADLER: I said, venite qui, venite qui, come here, come here. And out pops three children, crying, scared stiff.

KING: Three children. Rachelle says that surprise has stayed with her father Martin ever since.

RACHELLE DONLEY: You know, he was so happy that day that he first met them, and all he could do was really just hug them. And we thought, how wonderful would it be if he hugs them again?

MARTINEZ: Now, the odds of finding these children based on a single photograph seemed impossible. But then Italian journalist Matteo Incerti stepped in.

DONLEY: They were found - all alive, all living very close to where they used to live - and that their house was still there (laughter).

KING: But because of the pandemic, it was very difficult to get them all to reunite in person.

DONLEY: Then in June, things started getting a little better - a lot better because people were getting vaccinated. My parents were vaccinated. I got vaccinated.

MARTINEZ: So Martin and Rachelle made the decision to fly to Italy this summer to see those children again who now have grandchildren of their own.

DONLEY: While sitting on the plane, my father's like, are we going? Are we going? Are we going? (Laughter) Because he knew the kids were waiting for him there. Patience, Dad, patience, patience.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hooray.

(APPLAUSE)

DONLEY: That's a video Rachelle shot in the Bologna Airport of her father finally seeing the Naldi siblings - Bruno, Giuliana and Mafalda - for the first time in person since World War II.

MARTINEZ: Martin made sure to bring gifts.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: He brought chocolate bars, kind of like the ones he gave them when they first popped out of that big basket almost 80 years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ITALIAN MANDOLIN TORNA A SURRIENTO'S "TOSELLI SERENADE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.