Rome welcomes American WWII soldier Martin Adler

Martin Adler returns to Italy to meet three children he nearly shot in world war two.

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi welcomed 97-year-old retired American soldier Martin Adler to the capital, hosting him at city hall on Thursday.

The US veteran returned to Italy last week, 77 years after he almost shot three Italian children during world war two, as a 20-year-old soldier.

For more than seven decades Adler kept a cherished photograph with the three siblings, taken in 1944 in the Bologna area of Italy.

Last year his daughter Rachelle launched a campaign to try and track down the protagonists of the photo and - thanks to social media and the efforts of historian Matteo Incerti - the "bambini" were found to be all still alive.

Adler made contact with them, virtually, before travelling to Bologna to meet Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana Naldi - now all in their 80s - last week.

It was an emotional, joy-filled reunion, very different to their first encounter in the autumn of 1944, when Adler and a fellow US soldier entered a seemingly empty house in the village of Cassano di Monterenzio.

Adler, who fought along the Gothic Line as the Nazis retreated, heard a noise from a wicker basket and was on the point of shooting, thinking it might have been German soldiers in hiding, when a startled mother ran into the house screaming "Bambini! Bambini!"

Martin Adler with Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana Naldi in 1944

The US soldiers lowered their guns and out emerged a shaken Bruno, Mafalda and Giuliana from the basket, with Adler giving them chocolate and later posing for the now famous photograph.

77 years later Adler is currently in Rome as part of an "incredible journey" around Italy "to places where he fought against Nazi-fascism with the Allied troops and our partisans", said Mayor Raggi.

"On 3 June 1944 he won the bronze medal for valour at Rocca Priora and entered Rome as a liberator two days later" - Raggi said - "Resting in Ostia for a short period, on 20 June 1944 he went to pray at the Tempio Maggiore in the Jewish quarter."

During his visit to Rome this week Adler was also welcomed by the president of the city's Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello, returning to the Great Synagogue and donating a postcard he had sent from there to his mother in 1944.

Raggi said that Adler, "who lived through the nightmare of racial discrimination, anti-Semitism and fought Nazi-fascism, told us that we must build peace every day."

On Wednesday evening the Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio attended a ceremony in honour of Adler organised by the US embassy to Italy.

This evening, Friday 3 September, Adler will present the book about his wartime experiences in Italy - I bambini del soldato Martin by historian Matteo Incerti - at Marcella Royal Hotel on Via Flavia at 18.30.