Was a member of the 44th Bomb Group in England as a B-24 Liberator pilot. On his 20th mission, March 18, 1944, his plane was heavily damaged by flak, and the injured crew bailed out near Switzerland. Narrowly avoiding capture by the Germans, Cardenas was interned by the Swiss. In May, he escaped to France and returned to England in October.
Major Cardenas’ roles included Chief of the Bomber Operations Section of the Flight Test Division upon graduating from the Experimental Flight Test School in November of 1944 where he tested, evaluated, and gathered data on U.S. and captured German aircraft.
On February 9, 1949, Cardenas flew the YB-49 from Muroc to Andrews Air Force Base, setting a transcontinental non-stop flight record.
After attending Air Command and Staff School, in 1950, Cardenas completed his engineering degree and was assigned to Naha Air Base, Japan as Commander of the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing. For the next two years, he engaged in F-105 combat operations over Southeast Asia.
Commanded the 835th Air Division at McConnell Air Force Base in July 1966 , training pilots for Vietnam combat.
Deputy Chief of Staff for LIVE OAK, a NATO group that maintained Allied access to the divided city of Berlin.