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Terrence Smith stands by the street sign in the heart of Liberty Square named after his brother Lance Cpl. Kirk Smith, who was killed in 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut. Liberty Square, known also as the Pork-n-Beans, was where the Smith brothers were raised in Miami.

Terrence Smith stands by the street sign in the heart of Liberty Square named after his brother Lance Cpl. Kirk Smith, who was killed in 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut. Liberty Square, known also as the Pork-n-Beans, was where the Smith brothers were raised in Miami. (Carl Juste, Miami Herald/TNS)

Kirk Smith Jr. never met his uncle.

The man who’s his namesake — Lance Cpl. Kirk Smith Sr. — was killed in the 1983 U.S. Embassy bombing in Beirut. But thanks to a new street sign and the tremendous treasure trove of stories courtesy of the senior Smith’s friends, the memory of his uncle will never die.

“From what I know of him, he was a good dude and the honor that they’re doing for them is respectable because he died for the United States,” Kirk Jr., 37, said.

A portion of Northwest 13th Avenue near Liberty Square was recently renamed Lance Corporal Kirk Smith Way in honor of the fallen U.S. Marine. Smith is the first person born and raised in Liberty Square, known also as the Pork-n-Beans, to have a street named after him, according to former Miami Commissioner Jeffrey Watson. Opened in 1937, Liberty Square is the oldest public housing project in the Southeastern United States.

“I can stick my chest out,” said Terrence “Uncle Tee” Smith, Kirk Sr.’s younger brother and Kirk Jr.’s father.

Terrence called the moment a “blessing.” As a kid, Kirk Sr. liked to play with army men and read comics. He eventually graduated from Miami Northwestern and went right into the Marine Corps. In Terrence’s words, his older brother didn’t like to “hang on the corners and hang around in the hood” like his friends.

“He always was a traveler,” Terrence recalled. Smith added that his extended family, many of whom were spread throughout the east coast from Georgia to New Jersey to New York, knew of Kirk Sr.’s love for traveling and “would send for him” every summer break.

Terrence, however, was the opposite. He liked hanging out. He wasn’t really fond of traveling. He was, as he said, the “bad cop” out of him and his only brother.

“When we left the house, he went left, I went right,” Smith quipped.

The two brothers’ different pathways is part of the reason why Smith now views his brother’s sign as a point of pride.

“For me to still live and see this, it’s a real, real blessing because I should be either dead or still in prison somewhere,” Smith said. His family received a healthy settlement due to his brother’s killing and he used some of the money to open his restaurant “Barbara & Kirk’s Barbecue,” named after his mother and brother, in the shadow of Liberty Square. A mural of the family is currently being painted on both sides of the restaurant.

Watson played in instrumental role in the street renaming. Understanding how gentrification is rapidly changing the historically Black neighborhood of Liberty City, Watson made sure to push through the item before he left office roughly a year ago.

“As you look around, there will come a time when there has to be some sort of memorialization of us,” Watson said, “even if there’s no us.”

In the meantime, Kirk Jr. can’t wait to show his son, TJ. The 8-year-old is always asking about why there are so many American flags throughout the family’s home. Now, he’ll know why, and arguably even more important to Kirk Jr., he and the others kids in the neighborhood will know that Liberty City does produce greatness.

“They can be one of the ones to have their name up their on the sign too,” Smith Jr. said. “They don’t got to go that route that my uncle went but they can eventually go do the right thing knowing that they can have their name honored on one of them streets as well.”

©2022 Miami Herald.

Visit miamiherald.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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