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It has been 77 years since a former GI and three children he saved have seen each other. But a reunion more than half a century in the making has finally happened.

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Flashback to 1944, Bologna, Italy.

Martin Adler was a 20-year-old soldier in the village of Monterenzio, The Associated Press reported.

Three small children had been discovered in a wicker basket where their mother had hidden them as soldiers came near.

He thought the home where the basket sat was empty so he had set his machine gun’s sights on the basket when he heard a noise coming from it. He thought it was a German soldier hiding.

A moment of pure bravery and a mother’s love for her children saved the siblings’ lives.

“The mother, Mamma, came out and stood right in front of my gun to stop me (from) shooting,” Adler told the AP. “She put her stomach right against my gun yelling, ‘Bambinis! Bambinis! Bambinis!’ pounding my chest.”

He still remembers that day and, according to his daughter, has nightmares 77 years later.

But one thing that was a moment of happiness for Adler was when he met the children aged 3 to 6. While his company stayed in the village, he would visit the family after that fateful day and play with them.

The youngest of the siblings, Giuliana Naldi, remembers Adler too, specifically the blue-and-white wrapped American chocolate bar he gave her and her siblings Bruno and Mafalda.

“We ate so much of that chocolate,” Naldi told the AP.

Adler didn’t forget the children either, keeping an old photo of them nearby.

Rachelle Donley, Adler’s daughter, used the time during the COVID-19 shutdown to track down the children using that same photo.

Donley shared the photo with veteran groups in North America.

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Italian journalist Matteo Incerti saw it and helped figure out where Adler’s regiment had been stationed thanks to a detail in another photo.

The photo of the children was published in a local newspaper that then led to the three much older siblings. Giuliana is now 80, Mafalda is 82 and the oldest is Bruno who is 83, The New York Times reported.

Adler, who is himself now 97 years old, and the brother and two sisters he had saved so long ago reunited on a video call.

Once pandemic travel rules were lifted, Adler traveled from Florida to Italy for a face-to-face meeting. They met Monday with Adler wearing a shirt with the photo of them from 77 years ago. When they met, he once again gave each of them a chocolate bar, calling them “bambini,” the Times reported.

Thanks to Adler’s discovery of the children, he has created a legacy — Naldi and her siblings have six children of their own, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

After visiting the village, Adler plans to travel to Florence, Naples and Rome where he would like to meet Pope Francis.

“He wants to share his message of peace and love,” Donley told the AP of her father’s hope of meeting the pope. “My dad is all about peace.”