Aviation Legend Brig. Gen. Robert L. Cardenas Dies at 102
Air Force combat leader, bomber and fighter pilot, was key figure in securing federal approval for Miramar National Cemetery
By Bill Heard, Public Information Officer
(March 14, 2022) A legendary figure among the nation’s military aviators, and a leader in the San Diego veterans’ community—retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert L. Cardenas—died on his 102nd birthday, March 10, 2022, while hospitalized at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
Cardenas is survived by his wife of 74 years, Gladys, his sons Michael and Mark, and his daughters Robin, Debra, and Maria. Services and burial at Miramar National Cemetery are pending.
Members of the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation Board of Directors expressed their sorrow at the loss of their founder and former chairman who was instrumental in persuading the Veterans Administration to construct Miramar National Cemetery in San Diego.
“I was honored to be asked by General Cardenas to join the small group of originators for the lobby effort to bring a new National Cemetery to San Diego,” said Richard Sells, longtime Board member. “Without the untiring leadership of General Cardenas, the project would never have become what it is today. General Cardenas was a great friend, and was an admired leader. He will be missed.”
“Brigadier General Robert Cardenas dedicated his life to the service and security of our country for over 34 years” said Board Chairman Dennis Schoville. “His induction into the National Aerospace Hall of Fame is an understatement of the breadth of his military leadership and aeronautical accomplishments which, when combined with his service to the veteran community, including his leadership as the first Chairman of the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation, is unparalleled. He truly was ‘the man in the arena’ who has left an immense legacy for all to look up to.”
The National Aviation Hall of Fame, which enshrined Cardenas in 2015, issued this statement:
“(We join) the nation in sadness over the passing of…Brig. Gen. Bob Cardenas, USAF. A gentleman and skilled pilot, Cardenas will be remembered for many things, including piloting the B-29 that released the X-1 in which…Charles “Chuck” Yeager became the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound. “
Cardenas had a long, adventurous, and distinguished military career as a combat leader of World War II bombing missions in the European theater, prisoner of war, test pilot in multiple military aircraft, aerospace pioneer, jet fighter squadron commander in Vietnam, Air Force Special Forces innovator, and strategic planner. A bust of bomber pilot Cardenas in a flight helmet stands on a pedestal in the flag circle in front of the Veterans Museum at Balboa Park.
Cardenas was a founder, and later served as chairman, of the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation. Appointed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affair’s Memorials and Cemetery Committee in 2002, he played a leading role in securing federal approval and funding for Miramar National Cemetery, which opened in San Diego in 2010.