June 16, 2023
Commemoratives are often valued more by the benefactor or recipient than the general gun-buying public. Sometimes created to raise awareness for a cause or to solicit support for an organization, commemoratives are also used to honor a historical event, person(s), or location. Commemoratives can be simply marked with a unit’s identification, marked with a certain number out of a total quantity, or be distinguished by a non-catalog combination of grips, finishes or features.
Artist-embellished firearms have long been commissioned, but Remington made the Custom Shop part of its business in 1962. Colt announced its Custom Shop in 1976, and Smith & Wesson started the Performance Center in 1990. Custom shops are tasked with designing and manufacturing commemoratives, but the practice of making limited editions on legacy platforms expanded during the Global War on Terror (GWOT). We’ve seen Beretta offer special editions of the Beretta 92FS, as well as SIG Sauer’s runs of the P220 and P226, for example. The Beretta M9 and SIG Sauer P226 MK25 presented broad-enough appeal that those went into production.
The Kimber Warrior and Desert Warrior were introduced in 2005 as civilian versions of the pistol developed for the Marine Detachment of the U.S. Special Operations Command. By 2006, Kimber was taking orders from other returning Special Operations units. Companies such as North Carolina-based Para USA saw potential in this and expanded its offerings by making commemoratives in quantities that could interest a battalion or regiment.
Para USA, the successor to Para-Ordnance, was known for its 1911-style pistols and the first double-action-only M1911. It produced innovative products including double-stack variants in .38 Super, 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP. The models in .45 offered a significant capacity increase to 14 rounds of .45 for Government- and Commander-size frames, and 10 rounds in Officer models. These pistols not only earned a reputation from competitive and concealed-carry shooters, but they were also sought after by law enforcement. Acquired by the Freedom Group in 2012 — the same brand that collected manufacturers such as AAC, Bushmaster, DPMS, Marlin, Montana Rifles and Remington — Para was absorbed by Remington in 2015 and ceased to exist.
I recently acquired a Para Hi-Cap commemorative for not-a-lot-of-money. Though lacking the green hard case and takedown tool, it still came with three 14-round double-stack magazines. Finished in a FDE color, the 5-inch-barreled, single-action, .45-caliber 1911 was a popular canvas for Para to make similar limited-edition commemoratives. Beyond markings, these are excellent guns that once sold for $1,200. Today, they sell for almost half.
Just as if I were researching the markings of a military surplus firearm, I studied the markings on this Para Hi-Cap to learn about the unit: U.S. Army, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, “STRIKE,” Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The pistol commemorates the unit’s Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) deployment to Afghanistan from 2010 to ’11. I was moved to learn that the 101st Airborne suffered the highest death toll of any single deployment since the Vietnam War.
There can be more to commemoratives than aesthetic treatments. I don’t know why a soldier would let go of such a tribute, but I feel responsible to learn and guard its history. Every shot will be fired as a salute to those soldiers. Thank you for your service.
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