She was a young woman from Montreal, raised in a big, boisterous Irish Catholic family. Early in life she felt called to serve her fellow man and so took her vows as a nun with the Order of the Sacred Heart. Her destiny awaited in Japan where she became a teacher in a girl’s school. Sister Regina loved her work there and devoted herself to her young charges. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, of course, everything changed. She and her fellow sisters were interred in a prison camp where they served as farm laborers. One year slowly became two, and then three.
On August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On August 7 and 8, the U.S. Air Force dropped millions of leaflets over Japan spelling out the terrifying power of the bomb. All Japan held its collective breath in fear of another cataclysm.
On the morning of August 9, Sister Regina was in the fields gathering hay when she heard a lone bomber obscured by the clouds. She wrote in a letter on September 12, “I looked up to see if it were visible, but quickly decided that it would be wiser to hurry back to the camp … I began to run. I had gone only a few steps when suddenly there was a fearful explosion and everything was golden yellow.”
The Fat Man bomb exploded 500 meters above the ground at 11:02 AM.
"It seemed as though the sun had burst and I was lost in its midst. I threw myself at once into a clump of young bamboo trees. I was lying on a big bag of grass. My face only felt hot." She ran back to camp and found that, although there was damage, they had been sheltered from the full power of the bomb by the surrounding hills. Such was not the case for the city of Nagasaki below. "Two-thirds of the population of Nagasaki are dead. The city itself is a mass of ruins. They are still burning the dead. The hospitals having been destroyed, the wounded are not being cared for."
It was almost a month before full Allied landing forces arrived, and immediately all reporting and eyewitness accounts from Nagasaki became Classified and remained so for 50 years.
When all was said and done, Sister Regina decided to stay in Japan, her commitment to her students unchanged by the ferocity of war. In the following years, she suffered mental and physical effects from the bomb blast and ultimately died of cancer secondary to radiation exposure. She is buried at the Sacred Heart Convent at Susono, in the shadow of Mt. Fuji, 6,450 miles from home.
In loving remembrance of Sister Regina McKenna – an unknown witness to history.