For more than 70 years, Martin Adler treasured a black-and-white photo. The image shows an American soldier with three children. Adler is the soldier. And this summer, he met again the youngsters he rescued in 1944.
The soldier and the children saw each other for the first time in 1944 during World War II. Adler entered what he thought was an empty house in the village of Monterenzio, Italy. Suddenly, he heard a sound. He thought a German soldier was hiding inside a large wicker basket. He aimed his machine gun, ready to shoot.
Thankfully, he paused, a real-life example of Proverbs 19:2. It advises against action without knowledge, adding, “whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.”
A woman emerged. “[She] came out and stood right in front of my gun to stop me,’’ Adler recalls. “She put her stomach right against my gun, yelling, ‘Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!’ pounding my chest,’’ he says.
Three small faces peeked out from the basket. Their mother had hidden them.
“That was a real hero: the mother, not me,” Adler insists. “Can you imagine standing yourself in front of a gun and screaming ‘Children! No!’” He still trembles knowing that he was just seconds from opening fire.
While Adler’s company remained in the village, he would stop by and play with the children, aged three to six.
In August, 97-year-old Adler traveled from Florida to meet the siblings in person for the first time since the war. The trio are now in their 80s.
“Look at my smile,’’ Adler said, grasping the hands of Bruno, Mafalda, and Giuliana Naldi. Then, just as he did as a 20-year-old soldier, he handed out bars of American chocolate.
Giuliana, the youngest, is the only one of the three who remembers the event. She recalls climbing out of the basket and seeing Adler and another U.S. soldier.
“They were laughing,’’ Naldi, now 80, reminisces. “They were happy they didn’t shoot.”
She also recalls the chocolate in a blue-and-white wrapper. “We ate so much of that chocolate,’’ she says.
Last year, Adler’s daughter, Rachelle Donley, decided to use social media to track down the children in the photo.
Italian journalist Matteo Incerti spotted the image. He located information about Adler’s regiment. An Italian newspaper published the picture. That led to the discovery of the identities of the three children. After the easing of pandemic travel rules, Adler made the trans-Atlantic trip.
Donley is proud of her father. “Because he hesitated,” she says, “there have been generations of people.”
Giuliana Naldi’s granddaughter, Roberta Fontana, agrees. She’s one of six children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren who descended from the children in the basket.
She says, “Knowing that Martin could have shot and that none of my family would exist is something very big.”
Military Grade Chocolate
Giuliana Naldi has pleasant memories of the chocolate given her by American soldiers during the war. But not everyone remembers the brown foodstuff fondly.
In 1937, Captain Paul P. Logan of the US Army Quartermaster Corps visited the Hershey Company in Pennsylvania. America was drifting closer to war, and Logan asked Hershey to develop “a kind of survival ration,” according to Samuel Hinkle, Hershey’s chief chemist. The chocolate bar needed to be packed with nutrition and have a higher melting point to last on the battlefield.
The army told Hinkle that the chocolate shouldn’t be too tasty—after all, soldiers would need to ration them. The bars were for survival, not dessert. The bar Hinkle made was called a “D Ration.”
Making bad-tasting chocolate wasn’t the norm at Hershey. But Hinkle and his fellow chemists followed orders. Flavor notwithstanding, soldiers—and children like Giuliana—ate millions of bars during the war! By war’s end, Hershey had produced about three billion of the dense chocolate rations.
Why? The wisdom of the Proverbs is not accidental. Its truth can be applied throughout life and across decades and millennia. Real-life heroes are those who live by and act on true wisdom.
Pray: For minds that listen to God’s instruction in the Bible and for thankful hearts for miracles all around us.