Army Sgt. Michael David P. Cardenaz was a larger-than-life figure, those who knew him say.
A bald, bull of a guy, Cardenaz told a Colorado reporter in 2009 that he was an “old-school” soldier.
By then, he said, he had twice been hit by shrapnel, and had survived what he described as dozens of close calls with improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades. And a fellow soldier had died in his arms, he said.
Cardenaz was awarded numerous medals and commendations for his military service, including a Bronze Star. He also received the Soldier’s Medal, the highest noncombat honor a soldier can earn, for his attempt, in full gear, to save four others whose Humvee had plunged into a murky canal in Iraq. Cardenaz couldn’t swim, yet he and an officer kept going down into the canal. They were too late to save the soldiers, but kept at it until they retrieved the bodies.
“He was the bravest man I ever met,” said John Maldonado, who served with Cardenaz in Kosovo and Germany.
Cardenaz had served in Kosovo twice, in Iraq twice and was in the middle of an Afghanistan tour when he was killed in Kunar province by a rocket-propelled grenade Feb. 20, about a month before he was to return home.
His family said he had signed a 20-year contract with the Army not long before he died.
Cardenaz, 29, was born and reared in Corona and graduated in 1998 from Corona High School, where he wrestled and played football.
“All he wanted to do when he turned 18 was to join the Army, which he did,” said his sister Priscilla, 34. “He wanted to get out of the house and into the world. He wanted to make it a career. He was signed up to be in it forever.”
His family was planning a large 30th birthday party for him upon his return from Afghanistan.
Cardenaz and his wife, Macarena, had three children. He also had two children from previous relationships, according to his sister, who described him as a ladies’ man before his marriage.
Cardenaz had a tricked out Lincoln Navigator with large rims about which he was famously fastidious. He loved fishing and the Dodgers.
He earned the respect of soldiers, and his personality kept them off guard, those who knew him said.
“You never knew if he was serious or about to break out into laughter,” David Bellavia, a soldier and author who served with Cardenaz, wrote on a page of his website dedicated to “Fallen Heroes.” “He would borrow a cigarette off you and then complain about your brand.”
Cardenaz was a staff sergeant assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division based at Ft. Carson, Colo. In Iraq, the battalion fought in some of the toughest battles in Ramadi and Baghdad.
In addition to his sister Priscilla, his wife and children, Cardenaz is survived by two other sisters, Monica and Sandra; a brother, Steven; and his parents, Miguel and Rosellen.
Cardenaz was buried at Corona Sunnyslope Cemetery.