POSTED: 2:04 a.m. HST, May 3, 2011
WASHINGTON >> In a remarkable 72 hours of his presidency, Barack Obama carried a momentous secret and gave no hint of it as he consoled tornado victims, delivered a college commencement address and cracked jokes at a black-tie dinner.
What few insiders knew was that Obama gave the go-ahead Friday for the military operation that would end with the death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, target of the world's most intense manhunt.
After giving his consent, Obama, wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia left the White House on a busy day of travel, with three stops in two states.
In Alabama, one of several Southern states battered by fierce tornados, Obama assumed his role as consoler in chief as he and the first lady got an up-close look at communities in Tuscaloosa that had been flattened by the twisters.
Next stop: Cape Canaveral, Fla., even though Endeavour's launch, the next to last one before the shuttle fleet is retired, had been scrubbed for technical reasons well before Obama left Alabama. He stuck to his schedule, touring NASA facilities with his family. He also met privately with wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. Her husband, Mark Kelly, is the shuttle commander.
The president also delivered an evening commencement address at Miami Dade College before returning to Washington.
Obama wore a poker face throughout the weekend.
On Saturday, Obama attended the White House Correspondents' Association annual dinner and lobbed a few barbs at Donald Trump after having endured weeks of attacks by the prospective Republican presidential candidate over whether Obama is U.S.-born.
On Sunday, Obama headed for the Andrews Air Force Base golf course, as he does on many weekends when the weather is nice. But he only played nine holes, instead of his customary 18, and left after about four hours. The reporters who accompany him on public outings thought the chilly, rainy weather played into his decision to leave hours earlier than usual.
Actually, Obama was headed for a meeting to review final preparations for the operation against bin Laden.
In retrospect, there were some meager clues that something may have been going on. Obama went straight to the Oval Office in his golf shoes, instead of to the residence as he normally does after golf. Photos showed him looking tense and clench-jawed.
All became clear late Sunday when Obama told the nation shortly before midnight that bin Laden had been killed at the hands of U.S. forces.