Brigadier General Robert L. “Bob” Cardenas is a local hero in San Diego with a unique and exemplary Air Force career and is locally known as the Father of the Miramar National Cemetery, the newest national cemetery in the Country.
General Cardenas is 100 years old. His military career spanned 34 years and included command and combat leadership assignments in bomber, fighter, and special operations units and as a test pilot. He was born in Mexico in 1920 and moved with his parents to the US. He enlisted in the California National Guard in 1939 as a private in the Army Coast Artillery. Subsequently, he entered the Army Air Corps Cadet program and was commissioned as a 2nd Lt and pilot in July 1941. On his 20th mission as a B-24 Liberator pilot in 1944, he was shot down but evaded capture by swimming across a lake to neutral Switzerland. With the help of resistance forces, he made it through France, and was later evacuated to England and the US.
In addition to all of General Cardenas’ military awards and decorations, he has received many other recognitions. The University of New Mexico’s College of Engineering, his alma mater, honored him for outstanding professional contributions and leadership. The Sigma Chi fraternity awarded General Cardenas its “Significant Sig” medal and selected him to be a member of the Significant Sigma Chi Hall of Fame. The USAF Test Pilot School named him a “Distinguished Alumnus”, and the City of Lancaster, CA inducted him into its Aerospace Walk of Honor. He is also a Member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame and a Trustee of the Flight Test Historical Foundation at Edwards AFB, CA. The Air Commando Association inducted him into its Air Commando Hall of Fame. In November 2019, he will receive the Bob Gilliland Award from the March Field Air Museum.
General Cardenas graduated from Test Pilot School in 1945. He was involved in testing a number of fighter and bomber aircraft and became a member of the X-1 supersonic project in 1947. He was the mission commander and command pilot of the B-29 that launched Captain Chuck Yeager on his first supersonic flight. General Cardenas was the Chief Air Force Test Pilot for the YB-49 flying wing project. He flew more than 60 types of aircraft in his career.
During the Korean War, he continued to test new fighters and bombers and eventually became Commander of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Naha Air Base (AB), Okinawa, Japan. After a tour at the Pentagon, he joined the US Strike Command and led a joint Army – Air Force project in the Himalayan Mountains testing, evaluating, and improving high altitude resupply drop capabilities and procedures. During the Vietnam War, General Cardenas commanded the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena AFB, Japan and then Korat AB, Thailand flying combat missions as an F-105 pilot.
General Cardenas was promoted to Brigadier General in 1968 and was assigned as Commander of the Air Force Special Operations Force at Eglin AFB and Hurlburt Field, FL. During an assignment as the Vice Commander 16th Air Force in Spain, he negotiated the withdrawal of US forces from Wheelus AB, Libya with Muammar al-Gaddafi. After several other assignments in Europe, General Cardenas returned to the US and the Strategic Air Command as Chief, National Strategic Target List Division, of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff. He retired from active service on July 1, 1973.
After retirement, General Cardenas worked in private industry until 1983, when he joined President Ronald Reagan’s White House staff as the California Coordinator for the Southwest Border Economic Action Group. He resigned in 1985 to become California Governor Peter Dukemejian’s Chairman of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Group and a member of the California Council of Criminal Justice. In 1987 the Governor appointed him to the California Veterans Board, and he was later elected as Chairman of the Board for the California Department of Veterans Affairs. In 1993, General Cardenas became Chairman of the San Diego United Veterans Council and a Director on the Board of the Veterans Memorial Center and Museum.
Subsequently, VA Secretary Anthony Principi appointed General Cardenas to the Veteran Administration’s Memorials and Cemetery Committee. Working with local veteran’s organizations he convinced Secretary Principi of the need for an additional national cemetery in the San Diego area. The Secretary negotiated the transfer of land from the Department of the Navy to create the Miramar National Cemetery as an Annex to the existing Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery. Because the VA doesn’t pay for ancillary items need to make the cemetery functional, General Cardenas created the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation to raise the needed funds and to conduct related memorial ceremonies. For all of his contributions, he is recognized as the Father of the Miramar National Cemetery.
For all his military, civilian, and veteran contributions, we are honored to name the San Diego AFA Chapter in his name; the Brigadier General Robert Cardenas San Diego Chapter.