Way up there, in the middle of the Yukon Territory in northwest Canada, a package arrived for Floyd Bishop.
He’d been with the 93rd Engineer General Service Regiment for several weeks building the Alcan Highway, an artery to connect the lower 48 with Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The men lived in wall tents in the remote mountains. Supplies of odds and ends arrived intermittently, driven over barely finished roads and floated in on ferries.
Bishop’s package arrived on one of those trucks. It contained an electric toaster and a waffle iron.
It was a wedding present mailed months before. The box traveled from base to base, following the infantry soldier-turned-civil engineer. Instead of landing with his new wife back home in Wyoming, the package made its way to the wilds of Canada.
He joined the war in college, as part of the Army Reserves. When he finished his degree in civil engineering in 1942, he figured military life wasn’t far away. Soon after, he also realized he didn’t want to be a foot soldier, so he asked to go to pilot school and volunteered for a job on the Alcan Highway.
Born and raised in Douglas, he liked the wilderness, and at least he could use his schooling.
Hundreds of officers and enlisted men spent the summer of 1942 working on the highway. The United States worried a Japanese invasion could come from the Aleutian Islands into Alaska. It needed a way for supplies to reach the largest U.S. state.
The 93rd Regiment was a black one, and Bishop’s assignment was to lead 35 men in construction.
They ultimately helped build — by blasting, cutting and covering marshlands — 100 to 150 miles of road, while barely surviving the mosquitoes and then winter.
With his Sundays off, Bishop hunted and fished. He shot a cow moose once because food, especially meat, was scarce. The cooks were so grateful for the fresh meat they asked for every edible part including the heart, liver, kidneys and even the brain.
By November, it was too cold and snowy to work on the road.
“The Army declared the Alcan Highway finished at the end of that one year, but it was hardly in a finished condition,” Bishop said.
In December, he followed the 93rd Regiment to the Aleutian Islands to build air bases on some of the 300 tiny dots of volcanic land.
As cold and miserable as winter in the Yukon was, it couldn’t compare to winter on a speck of an island called Umnak in the northern Pacific Ocean.
“The weather was miserable. It was cold, windy and rainy,” he said.
“The snow didn’t accumulate and it wasn’t deep, but it was windy, windy, windy, every day.”
In July, when the sun never set, Bishop’s pilot training orders arrived. He went south and became a pilot. By the end of 1944, he was on his way to another island, this one in the South Pacific.
He flew a B-29 and was stationed in Tinian, a tropical, jungle island in the Philippines.
The 9th Bomb Group had mostly strategic bombers, dropping mines in harbors and firebombing cities. Mainland Japan was the group’s primary target, filling bays and channels with mines and dropping jelly bombs on cities.
“Missions to Tokyo were always exciting. It was a tough target because they would fire back on us,” he said.
One day in mid-March 1945, commanders told Bishop’s bomb group it would attack Tokyo with 100-pound fire bombs from a dangerously low altitude. The men figured they’d be lucky if half came back alive. They would attack Tokyo’s industrial areas to limit Japanese war production.
On a night mission, the planes flew low, the first ones with target coordinates. All the following planes dropped their firebombs next to the burning signals.
“We saw one airplane directly in front of us, and it must have gotten hit in the bomb bay,” Bishop said.
“I was thoroughly scared when we got to Japan.”
Search lights tracked Bishop’s plane as it dropped bombs and ducked and swerved. Flak never hit, and he later realized winds as high as 70 mph raged over Tokyo, spreading flames from the bombs and making it harder for Japanese flak to hit American planes.
In the end, American bombers destroyed 15.8 square miles of Tokyo. Of 300 B-29s involved, only 11 were damaged or lost.
Bishop flew 35 missions in the Pacific, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross for landing his crew safely on Okinawa after an engine failed.
When he got the chance to go home, he took it. He landed back on U.S. soil as the first atomic bomb hit Japan.